Every spring, Belmont hosts its annual Baccalaureate Service to celebrate graduates and their families. While this year’s event started and ended just as it always does, the experience during Friday’s ceremony for Associate Professor of Finance Dr. John Gonas was very different.
Brennon Mobley, a senior student set to graduate at the next day’s commencement ceremony and a student-leader on Gonas’s Enactus team, was the 4th speaker at the event and told the story of how he came to Belmont, largely due to a meeting with Gonas during his junior year of high school. Following the Nashville flood of 2010, the pair met while clearing carpet out of a neighbor’s home and began talking about Belmont.
Gonas described an idea that eventually led to Spring Back Recycling, a nonprofit organization that recycles the inners of mattresses through the employment of previously incarcerated men. Mobley was interested. “[Dr. Gonas] told me that if I came to Belmont, I could be a part of a group of students that would help him launch it. I knew nothing about mattresses…What value could I possibly add? Those facts didn’t seem to matter to [Gonas]. He recognized my value within,” Mobley said.
Five years later, Spring Back Recycling has locations in five states and has recycled over 3 million pounds of used mattresses. The organization empowers disenfranchised men and provides the opportunity to “spring back” into society recognizing their value, the same value Mobley said Gonas saw in him.
With graduation looming, Mobley was interested in honoring his mentor in a powerful way and began thinking through past conversations. He remembered a Spring Back trip where Gonas told him of the ultimate gift he could receive – a scholarship in his name. Working with a team of others who were impacted by Gonas and through the support of Belmont’s Office of Development, Mobley went to work to create an endowed scholarship.
To conclude his speech at Friday’s ceremony, Mobley announced the creation of the Dr. John Gonas Endowed Scholarship with an initial endowment of $30,000, a gift that Mobley said will continue to develop. “The beauty of it is that an endowed scholarship is something that stands in perpetuity and can always grow. For me, this is my personal vessel to give back to Belmont, because that’s how I was impacted most, through him.”
While finding resources for a gift of this magnitude is no easy feat, Mobley said the funds raised themselves. “The fundraising wasn’t me; it was all the things that Dr. Gonas has done to bless people in the past. He essentially raised all the money on his own. He does things out of the goodness of his heart without looking for something in return. There were a lot of people that wanted to do something to thank him.”
The presentation came as a surprise to Gonas who was not aware of the creation of the fund until it was announced. Gonas said he is amazed at the kindness Mobley has exhibited and is already looking forward to seeing how this will impact Belmont in a powerful way. “I do not feel deserving and am honored and humbled to accept such a gift. I am excited to use this gift to ‘pay it forward.’”
In addition to the scholarship, Mobley also created a website where members of Gonas’s community can send letters of encouragement and support. Mobley said he wanted to provide a gift that was more tangible, where Gonas could feel the support of the people he has impacted. “The presentation was to bless a man who has blessed so many, let him know the impact he’s made, honor him with a gift but also revitalize him with words. A lot of times, people are honored after they move out of their career, but this honor is deserved now and will only continue to encourage him. I know he will continue to create an impact,” Mobley said.