Twenty-one years after he graduated from high school, Airbnb cofounder and airbnb.org chairman Joe Gebbia still thinks warmly about the many hours he spent in art class and on the cross-country track.
Now he’s repaying Brookwood High School in Snellville, Georgia in Snellville, Georgia, for teaching him the skills and life lessons he’s taken into the boardroom with a $700,000 donation.
The charitable contribution allots $500,000 for the school’s visual arts program and $200,000 to pay for a new track and new apparel for the team.
“The timing felt right, something I’d been thinking about for quite a while,” Gebbia tells Fast Company in an exclusive interview. “While I’m doing more philanthropy in my life now than I had before, this is easier for me to circle back to. This is a special place that helped form and shape me.”
He visited the home of the Broncos on Thursday, touring the art class, checking out the track under construction, and chatting with current students and teachers. Among those there to greet him was his retired cross-country coach, Joe Carter.
He credits his athletics experiences with teaching him that he was capable of more than he thought possible—a lesson he applied to the business world as an entrepreneur
“The cross-county team was really a moment in my life where I realized no matter how much I wanted to quit—whether in the middle of a race or in the middle of practice—there was always more in me to keep going,” Gebbia says. “It doesn’t matter what kind of company it is. Everyone will tell you of the hardships they endured to bring their ideas and business into the world. It certainly was the case for us in the early days of Airbnb. There were lot of times when things were not going in our favor and it would’ve been really easy to give up. There was a willpower that I bring.”
Brookwood is part of the metro Atlanta area’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest school system in Georgia.
Gebbia has also contributed to his other alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design, where he attended with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. He gave $300,000 for scholarships and an endowed fund. Gebbia is also a member of the college’s Board of Trustees.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the high school. The story has been updated.