Builders Care’s 2016 Veterans Project came to a joyful conclusion Dec. 9, when the Natto family was given a grand tour of their new home.
While the project itself came to an end, it marks the beginning of a new life for this military family.
The events leading up to that happy move-in day were life-changing.
On Feb. 29, Chris Natto, a 26-year-old Recon Marine, was on a routine training mission with his unit: a night jump over an untested landing zone. A miscalculation by the unit’s ground command led to a tragic accident.
Natto remembers hitting the top of a tree and having his legs flare out. He landed on a branch and as his parachute collapsed, Natto fell 40 feet to the ground, landing on his back.
He was unable to move or even call for help. He was paralyzed from the chest down.
Chris and his wife Sydney are from St. Johns County and both sets of parents still live there. But neither family has a home equipped for handicap accessibility, so Chris remained in the Veterans Administration hospital in Tampa.
Their 22-month-old son, Rhett, stayed in St. Augustine with Sydney’s parents, while she divided her time between her son and her husband.
Builders Care approached Matt Devereaux of Lennar Homes. When he heard their story, he decided to build this family a home in St Augustine.
Groundbreaking was Oct. 24 and the Natto family saw it complete and ready to move in on Dec. 9.
Beds were made with freshly washed sheets and the refrigerator was well-stocked.
“Our goal was to make every part of the home accessible to Chris,” said Devereaux. “We widened the door to his son’s bathroom so Chris can be present during bath time.
“We pushed out the garage to build in a ramp and the door from the garage into the house operates by the push of a button,” he said. “We added a few steps to raise the child’s bed so Chris and Rhett can be eye-to-eye for bedtime stories and prayers.”
In addition, the kitchen island has a lowered microwave and sink and the outdoor kitchen has a handicap-accessible grill. The front bedroom and bath were converted to an in-home gym with donated equipment for Natto’s ongoing rehabilitation.
Devereaux said every Lennar trade partner was involved and eager to step up and donate time, money and skill to help this family.
Builders Care and Lennar were honored with the Florida Distinguished Service Medal, the highest medal the state of Florida bestows on civilian organizations.
The color guard stood at attention for the entire dedication ceremony. St. Johns County firemen and policemen were on hand, as well as members from the National Guard.
Other dignitaries at the dedication included Congressman Ron DeSantis and Lennar Regional President Fred Rothman.
“Chris and Sydney were overjoyed and so full of gratitude,” said Builders Care Executive Director Justin Brown. “This was beyond their wildest dreams and they were so moved by everyone’s involvement.
“When Matt (Devereaux) opened the garage door and exposed their new Toyota minivan, Sydney seemed shocked. Her reaction brought tears to many of us. They really are a sweet young family,” Brown said.
Gene Rover, chairman of the Builders Care board of directors, said this project underscores the mission of the organization.
“This was truly a modern-day barn raising with the entire community coming together to help this military family who gave so much in service to our country,” Rover said. “It has been so great to be a part of this project, to be able to witness firsthand the tremendous outpouring of generosity from so many.
“I am so proud of our role and for the dedicated members of NEFBA and Builders Care, with a special thanks to Lennar and its trade partners,” he said.