NAVARRE — It was a bittersweet Wednesday for the family of Mark De Alencar.
In a patriotic ceremony that included an Army color guard, Boys Scouts, bagpipes, local officials and drag race car driver Courtney Force, Building Homes For Heroes presented a mortgage-free home to Mark’s widow, Natasha De Alencar.
The nonprofit has made its name by building and modifying more than 140 homes for veterans. But Wednesday morning was the first time the organization donated a home to a Gold Star Family.
Mark De Alencar was an Army staff sergeant with 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) who was killed in action in Afghanistan April 8, 2017, leaving behind his wife of 15 years and five children. The De Alencar family had just moved to the area when Mark was deployed. Mark and Natasha were planning to buy a home when he returned. Florida was going to be the “last stop” for the military family.
“You have made Mark proud,” Natasha told the crowd in front of her new home on Brooke Beach Drive in Navarre. “That’s one thing he wanted to do was provide for his family. You made that possible today. We are truly, truly grateful.”
In the short time that De Alencar was with 7th Group, he demonstrated that he was “special, unique and powerful,” 7th Group Lt. Col. Aaron Bush said at the ceremony.
“Today we honor a great husband. We honor a great father. We honor a great man and a great Special Forces Green Beret,” he added.
The four-bedroom home was donated by Chase Bank and is valued at about $300,000, said Jazmine Leon, public relations and marketing manager for Building Homes for Heroes. The home was renovated to make it move-in ready.
Natasha and the kids picked out paint colors for the bedrooms. The master bedroom is a deep shade of purple. Octavia Osbourne, 18, one of Mark and Natasha’s kids, said she claimed the light yellow room upstairs. Volunteers spent hours Tuesday finishing the landscaping in the front yard.
The De Alencar family has been living on Eglin Air Force Base for the past year, Natasha said. They will move to their new home next week.
“This is even better than I thought,” Natasha said mere minutes after she walked into the home for the first time surrounded by cameras. The event will be featured on an upcoming episode of the Lifetime television series “Live Life Forward.”
The past year has not been easy for the family. Natasha said she always feels her husband’s presence. She wears a dog tag necklace with Mark’s photo.
“April 8, 2017, was the worst day of mine and my children’s lives,” she said. ” I want to thank this community for wrapping their arms around me and making sure Mark’s life is never forgotten.
“Today is bittersweet,” Natasha added. “It’s a new step toward a new life without my hero.”