Beaufort News

Bluffton Self Help founder says she's ready for the White House

Ida Martin has been practicing her strut.

She demonstrated the walk Tuesday in her home in Bluffton. She's going to stand up straight and walk with confidence and flair. Then she's going to wait patiently for the president of the United States to extend his hand to her.

She'll take it. And then, she'll hug Barack Obama.

"I'm not going to ask for permission because he might say no," Martin said.

The founder of Bluffton Self Help will meet Obama on Thursday when she accepts the Presidential Citizens Medal for her volunteer work.

The award is given to Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or fellow citizens," according to the White House website.

Martin, 84, will join 12 other award recipients for a private ceremony at the White House. The award is one of the highest civilian honors in the country.

Practicing her walk is only one of several details that have been buzzing around Martin's mind since she found out she won the award.

On Monday, she picked out the perfect suit for the occasion -- red with an animal print blouse -- at Doncaster. The store called and asked to donate the outfit after news broke that she had won. She's laid the suit on a chair in her home and can't stop admiring it.

She's picked the five guests to attend the ceremony with her: Lili Coleman, the executive director of Bluffton Self Help; her daughter Constance Atkins; her granddaughter Mikesha Middlebrook; her granddaughter Letisha Martin; and her great-grandson Belize Kosoko.

The travel details have been smoothed out. She'll arrive in Washington tonight and stay at the Washington Plaza Hotel. She's not too worried about being able to sleep the night before her big day.

Coleman assured Martin she has packed two Bluffton Self Help aprons to give as gifts to the Obamas. The bright red aprons have been embroidered with "president" and "first lady."

Now, Martin just has to remember to pack her pearl earrings. She plans to wear them as a nod to first lady Michelle Obama, who is frequently photographed in pearls.

As the day nears and more details fall into place, Martin and those around her get more excited. Martin said her friends and community members have congratulated her all week. Many have asked to see the medal when she returns; she's scheduled to speak to some local schools about the experience.

"The adventure is really starting to unfold," said Coleman, who nominated Martin for the award.

But for Martin, who started the nonprofit Bluffton Self Help in her garage in 1987 to give emergency assistance to those in need, it still doesn't seem real.

"I don't think it will hit me until I get there," she said. "It's like I'm in a dream."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

Related content:

Bluffton Self Help founder wins Presidential Citizens Medal; Oct. 12, 2011

The Presidential Citizens Medal

Years after 'retirement,' Martin still lending hand to Bluffton community; Dec. 24, 2010