Awards shine light on important work

Our small corner of the world has received national recognition for two efforts to improve the lives of our neighbors.

Both are examples of community endeavors built with the bricks of individual effort.

Bluffton's Ida Martin will travel to the White House next week as one of 13 people to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor, for her work with Bluffton Self Help,a private social services agency that began in her garage 24 years ago.

Beaufort County has been named one of the country's 100 best communities for youth by America's Promise, an organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma.

Martin founded Bluffton Self Help in 1987 to help people who needed a hand up in times of crisis.

In 2002, she described a lunch with Deep Well Project founder Charlotte Heinrichs in 1986 that ended with a trip to the grocery store to help a family of five children with nothing but a jug of water in the refrigerator.

From there, Martin built Bluffton Self Help into an agency that in 2010 provided 62,000 items of food to 11,600 people and provided clothing to nearly 9,000 people, according to the presidential citation. The organization also provides short-term emergency financial help for rent, medicine and utilities.

Martin didn't do it alone, but she provided the spark and has kept the flame burning since 1987. Next month, the group will move into new headquarters in Sheridan Park, marking another major step in its journey.

The America's Promise award recognizes a broad coalition working to improve the lives of Beaufort County's children. The county's application was submitted by the Beaufort County School District and highlighted the work of Together for Beaufort County, a group of about 110 human-service professionals formed to better coordinate services for children and families.

America's Promise looked at a wide array of issues in assessing Beaufort County's commitment to its children. They included the county's high school dropout rate, health care, leadership education, after-school programs, and volunteer and recreational opportunities.

The application process for this award offered an opportunity for self-examination that should yield results far beyond the award itself.

Trish Heichel, chairwoman of Together for Beaufort County, said she hoped the award would encourage more involvement by businesses and faith organizations in Together for Beaufort County's work.

"This is a stake in the ground," said Denise Spencer, the group's vice chairwoman. "It spotlights the many things we still need to do and sheds light on where we are. We're serious about improving and moving ahead."

Brick by brick, person by person, we can build a better community.