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Salvation Army marks 125 years

When Vickie Trout escaped domestic violence in another state, she fled to Kansas to be closer to family.

But she soon discovered she had no regular place to stay.

"I was basically living on the street," said Trout, 52, the mother of four grown children.

For the past eight months, Trout has been putting her life back together. She is one of more than 36,000 people the Salvation Army helped in Wichita during the past year.

Trout is benefiting from a charity that started work in Wichita 125 years ago today, when Mae Cunningham rode a bicycle more than 50 miles from Hutchinson in a long skirt and big bonnet.

Cunningham led a street prayer meeting at 116 E. Douglas on May 12, 1886, as cowboys yelled at the group.

The organization will mark its anniversary with a luncheon to honor the 2,300 volunteers who help it run throughout the year.

"Our volunteers are the only way we're able to exist," said Major Douglas Rowland.

The Salvation Army didn't receive a welcome from everyone in Wichita when it first arrived.

"The Salvation Army is here and Hell is everywhere," the Wichita Beacon wrote in an 1886 editorial.

An early outdoor meeting resulted in the group being arrested for disturbing the peace. After their release, they reconvened in front of the Eaton Hotel, with ax-wielding temperance protester Carry A. Nation standing guard as security.

Today, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer is expected to read a proclamation marking the charity's 125 years, meaning it has served the city as long as the Wichita Fire Department.

Over the years, the Salvation Army's base hasn't moved far from its original street corner, where a marker commemorates the spot of Cunningham's first prayer service.

It has operated out of buildings at Douglas and Emporia, 126 N. Topeka and currently at the Koch Center at 350 N. Market.

The organization operated Kansas' first hospital for single, pregnant women in the 1920s.

Case manager Cinthia Estrada said the group sees many single women coming through its homeless program.

"They don't have a lot of support for a variety of reasons," Estrada said.

And most shelters offer little privacy or services for women.

"This was the best shelter for me," Vickie Trout said. "There's just not a lot of shelters available here for women."

The Salvation Army also provides residential services for homeless and abused teens, foster homes for children, emergency social services and disaster relief.

Camp Hiawatha, along the Arkansas River in north Wichita, expects an average of 80 to 100 children a day at its summer day camp, Rowland said.

Since last summer, Trout has been able to find a job as a dishwasher in an Old Town restaurant. She has begun paying debts.

"We sit down online and look at credit reports and figure out what to tackle next," Estrada said.

So far, Trout has paid off about $3,000 in debt. She has nearly that much in savings.

After living in the Salvation Army's emergency shelter for three months, Trout has moved to transitional housing. She pays for her basic necessities, including food, and her life is becoming stable.

"What I'd like to do is pay off everything, so I could save up to buy a house," she said.

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