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Great Falls stylist helping survivors of sexual abuse

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Great Falls stylist helping survivors of sexual abuse
Posted at 5:04 PM, Mar 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-28 12:14:57-04

GREAT FALLS — April is sexual assault awareness month. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

People between the ages of 18 and 34 are at highest risk.

And one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

Native Americans are also at a great risk. On average, American Indians aged 12 and over experience 5,900 sexual assaults per year.

One Great Falls woman is using a program she discovered through her church that combines faith with healing to help survivors.

Like most of us, 2020 was hard on hair stylist Cari Coldren. Deemed non-essential, she had a lot of time to think, which led her to answering a call for help.

“And finally it occurred to me that I wanted to do something to help women like myself who have been sexually abused in a group setting to learn about themselves and have hope and freedom,” said Coldren.

Through her church, she discoveredJourney to Heal Ministries.

“We walk with them and lead them to healing and hope of sexual recovery through Jesus Christ,” said Coldren.

Cari Coldren
Cari Coldren

Founded in 2018, Journey to Heal is a ministry set up in Wilmington, North Carolina, by Crystal Sutherland. An abuse survivor, Southerland wrote a book called “Journey to Heal: Seven Central Steps in Recovery to Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse.”

Coldren is one of more than two dozen Journey to Heal volunteer mentors nationwide and the only one in Montana.

“We deal with shame, anger, forgiveness, and how God plays a part in all of those things, and which then eventually leads to healing of your soul,” said Coldren.

As a mentor since September of 2021, she’s led 15 women through the program, including her own daughter-in law, Errica Schlehr.

“I'm stronger. I feel like I'm worth so much more,” said Schlehr. “I don't let my wounds affect other people as much. That's been really, really strengthening for myself and my family as a whole.”

Schlehr says going through the program has helped her deal more openly with her family and friends about the past.

“There's a shame and guilt that comes with it that you don't realize until you commit to actually facing it,” said Schlehr. “Once you get over that hurdle and you come out the other side, speaking to others is so much easier on that level and you just are able to help others face it.”

The program consists of eight-week sessions. It’s not just limited to Great Falls Church of Christ members, all survivors 18 and over are welcome.


As a licensed counselor, Hannah Burleson says programs like Journey to Heal are important.

“It helps people who have struggled with sexual abuse in their past. There's really a lot of people in our community who are struggling with these difficulties,” said Burleson. “One of the reasons why people struggle when they're going through things alone. So, this just creates that sense of community that helps people know I'm not alone.”

Burleson adds that Journey to Heal is just one of several support programs the church offers.

“We have grief share available to help people who are struggling with the death of a loved one,” said Burleson. “We also have divorce care available, and that helps with those who might be navigating the challenges and the realities of going through a divorce.”

Coldren says she was scared to go through the program before becoming a mentor. She says in 2020, she compared herself to a bull in a closet, thinking she would shatter if anything traumatic happened to her again. She says the program made her stronger.

“I feel like I am a good wife, a good mother, a good friend, a sister,” said Coldren. “So there is hope for all of us who have the burden of sexual abuse on our shoulders. And we are able to release that and be who we need to be to live a better life.”

Those who have gone through the Journey to Heal program say it brings an invaluable sense of camaraderie.

“Most women are, when we're finished, they're very freeing and they have hope in themselves,” said Coldren. “They think they believe that they're better than they were when they started.”

“I would just say that being able to walk in faith alongside these women that have gone with this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Schlehr. “I would do it again 100 times.”

Coldren says anyone wanting to register for future sessions can register by clicking here. For more information, she invited people to call her at 406-231-6613.