“Not my husband, he was a fighter and he could overcome anything. Hell, he was a Recon Marine.” — Sydney Natto, when told her husband, Chris, would most likely be paralyzed after a parachute training accident
******Those were among the words Matt Devereaux read in Sydney Natto’s “40 Feet and Higher” essay several months after Chris Natto was injured. Devereaux, Lennar Homes’ division president for North Florida, had been looking for a family to help. Someone to benefit from the company’s Focused Acts of Caring effort, which gives back to the community and not necessarily just with money. “It’s about doing the right thing,” he said. “Helping people who need help.” Devereaux had asked Justin Brown, executive director of Builders Care, to help find the right family. Months later, Brown called him and briefly described why the Nattos might be that family. Chris, of St. Augustine, was a Recon Marine and proud to be one. He and his wife, Sydney, have a son, Rhett, who turns 2 in December. While training in February for a future deployment, Chris and nine others were making night parachute jumps, something he had done many times. “Jumping was as easy as breathing to him and his second love,” Sydney wrote. “He was always so happy to leap out of a perfectly good airplane and just free fall.” But that night, she wrote, in an area where they’d never jumped, the men realized they were 2 miles beyond the drop zone. Many landed in trees and backyards. Chris landed in a pine tree, on a branch that couldn’t hold him. His parachute collapsed and he fell 40 feet to the ground, landing on his back. It was the moment that changed the young family forever. Brown sent Devereaux the eight-page essay written by Sydney. “It gave me chills reading the story,” Devereaux said. He knew immediately the Nattos were the family Lennar Homes should help. He wanted to meet Sydney.
“A hospital is no place for a child and thankfully my mom and dad have taken on the job of raising our rowdy and wild little boy until we are able to build a house, move back to St. Augustine and start being a family again.”
— Sydney Natto, about wanting her family reunited****** Brown listened to Sydney’s father share the family’s plight at a meeting of Builders Care, the charitable arm of the Northeast Florida Builders Association. Jerry Dedge talked about the quest to find a handicapped-accessible home for the family. A place where Chris could be reunited with his family instead of having to stay at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa. Brown said Dedge fought back tears as he told the gut-wrenching story. Neither Chris nor Sydney’s family had the ability to take care of Chris, Brown recounted. But a mom and dad need to be together to raise their young son together. “You could feel the torture they were going through,” Brown said. Dedge said he was willing to buy the lot for a new home, but was seeking as much help as possible from builders and trade partners. Devereaux was touched by what Chris, 26, had done for the country and the sacrifices he and his family had made. When he met Sydney, that was only strengthened. The Nattos were, indeed, the right family for Lennar Homes to help.
“We are truly blessed in so many ways. We have a great supportive family and fantastic friends. We are also so thankful for all the people who have been so helpful and giving in this very hard adjustment in our lives.” — Sydney Natto, about the amount of support the family has received
******A family friend, Bruce Peters, later spoke to members of NEFBA, a group to which he once belonged. He shared his fears of depression one day impacting Chris, who didn’t want to be a burden, Brown recounted Peters telling the group. Peters talked of Sydney’s strength and how she wanted her family to be together. And then it was Sydney’s turn. Brown said he could feel that as Sydney began sharing her story, she was processing it, maybe for the first time. Not only saying the words, but finally hearing and feeling them. The anchor of the family began to cry. Many people in the audience shed tears, as well. They were touched and wanted to help. Once Devereaux committed to build the home, he reached out to trade partners. Dozens signed on almost immediately. “Within not even 24 hours, they had all but two trades filled,” Brown said. But, he said, Devereaux wanted Builders Care to be involved. So, the nonprofit’s military project will focus on raising money for impact fees, an educational fund for Rhett, an adjustable bed for Chris and other needs the family will have, Brown said. Part of that fundraising will be through selling a T-shirt with a Recon Marine logo on the front and “Bring Natto Home” on the back with a list of the companies that helped. Visit builderscare.org for details on how to help.
****** “Anything is possible and you just have to believe that you can achieve it. Have faith that God will see you through it and give you the strength you need to live it. God never gives you more than you can handle, and I believe that wholeheartedly.” — Sydney Natto, on having faith
******Devereaux wants the Nattos in their new home by the first week of December. That timeline brought about an impromptu groundbreaking last month, where he and others were joined by Sydney, Rhett and members of their family. It was a pretty special time, Devereaux said. Though the homesite was in the beginning stages, the event helped it become a reality and not just words on paper. This would be the home where Rhett could play in the yard. Where Chris could come home to. Where the family could be together again. Devereaux wants Chris to have access everywhere in the 2,267-square-foot home on a lot donated by the developer of Arbor Mill at Mill Creek. Devereaux grew up with an uncle who was disabled and remembers the struggles his uncle and grandparents faced because they didn’t live in a handicapped-accessible home. He wants the Nattos’ three-bedroom, two-bathroom home to allow Chris to be as self-sufficient, as possible. There’s a space for a home gym for Chris to continue getting stronger. And although Chris may not be able to give Rhett a bath, the team made sure he could access the second bathroom and watch that happen. There’s a second microwave in a lower kitchen cabinet underneath the counter, a second sink that’s lowered in the kitchen island and an outdoor kitchen with a handicapped-accessible grill. Devereaux said Sydney was “more than thankful.” “It’s nothing she ever thought to ask for,” he said. “She was just in awe.” Devereaux was appreciative of the dozens of companies that eagerly stepped up to provide labor and materials, everything from concrete to framing to roofing to drywall and beyond. He also praised Lennar Homes, saying the project shows what type of company it is. “It would be easy for us to just push along and build a lot of homes and sell a lot of homes,” said Devereaux, who’s been with Lennar Homes since 2001. “But it’s really about what you do for the community and those truly in need.” He was a little hesitant to talk about the project at first because charitable work is not something the company does for publicity, he said. And he doesn’t want it taken that way. Builders and their trade partners in the industry have generous hearts, Devereaux said. Hearts big enough to build a home and reunite a family.
****** “Chris wants to be able to play with his son again. Throw a ball with him, put him to bed and read him a story, and just be able to be a dad and a husband again. He just wants his life back. It is by no means the life we had planned, but it is still a life and we are so thankful that we get to have it.” — Sydney Natto, about reuniting her family