Bluffton Self Help founder wins Presidential Citizens Medal

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comOctober 12, 2011 

Ida Martin, founder of Bluffton Self Help is one of thirteen people to be awarded the 2011 Presidential Citizen's Medal, the second highest award given to civilians in the United States.


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Ida Martin has a very important question.

Is it appropriate to hug the president of the United States?

She hopes it is.

The longtime Bluffton resident and founder of Bluffton Self Help will meet Barack Obama next week when she heads to the White House to accept the Presidential Citizens Medal for her volunteer work.

It's an honor she never dreamed of.

"Little old me from little old Bluffton?" Martin asked a White House representative who notified her earlier this month of the good news.

The award recognizes Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or fellow citizens," according to the White House website. It's one of the highest civilian awards in the U.S.

Martin, 84, will join 12 others, along with friends and family, for a private ceremony Oct. 20 at the White House. She is eagerly anticipating the event, planning for a hair appointment and deciding what to wear -- possibly something red, so she stands out.

Lili Coleman, executive director of Bluffton Self Help, nominated Martin about four months ago. Coleman said she never doubted Martin would win.

"When you read who it's supposed to honor, I couldn't think of anyone in the U.S. who fit that description besides Ida," Coleman said.

Bluffton Self Help began in 1987 in Martin's garage. She traces it to a single mother and her children who moved in across the street. They had only a bottle of water in their refrigerator, and Martin knew she had to help. She brought them groceries.

She hasn't stopped since.

Bluffton Self Help answered about 22,000 requests for aid last year, Coleman said. The organization provides food, clothing and financial assistance. In early November, the organization will move into new space in the Sheridan Park development.

Coleman said Martin is still at the helm of Bluffton Self Help, despite retiring as director more than six years ago. The staff calls her regularly with questions, and she's still handing out baskets of food during the holidays, Coleman said.

Martin said she feels she was born to help people. When she was a child, she believed she would become a missionary.

"Helping people keeps me going," she said.

Her calling will put her face-to-face with the president, a man she has called "my Moses."

Martin attended Obama's inauguration in 2008 with her granddaughter. She told The Island Packet before that trip that watching the nation's first black president take office was so important to her she'd ride a donkey all the way to Washington, D.C., if she had to.

So when she meets Obama, she's decided she's going to hug him, no matter what presidential etiquette says.

"This is the happiest moment for me," Martin said. "I'm going down in history."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

Related content

  1. The Presidential Citizens Medal
  2. 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal recipients
  3. Bluffton Self Help
  4. Years after 'retirement,' Martin still lending hand to Bluffton community; Dec. 21, 2010
  5. From the Lowcountry to the inauguration: The 81-year-old's dream comes true; Jan. 17, 2009
  6. Local nonprofit to renovate new headquarters by Thanksgiving; July 18, 2011

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