The Bootstraps Foundation rewards perseverance through adversity by awarding higher education scholarships to deserving youth of Middle Tennessee.


In 1986 Irby Simpkins, publisher of The Nashville Banner, and Ray Danner, chairman of Shoney’s, Inc., conceived the idea of The Bootstraps Foundation, Inc. (then named The Bootstrap Awards) as a way to give college scholarships to young people who had “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and still managed to continue and pursue their education.

Shoney’s and The Nashville Banner pledged $10,000 each annually toward the scholarship fund, and in the first year five scholarships were awarded at the first banquet on May 1, 1987. Later that year in August, Bootstraps was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation.

From 1999 – 2001 the scholarship program was funded by a Shoney’s sponsored golf tournament and some small donations from Shoney’s employees and United Way. The program transitioned to the Kiwanis Club of Nashville in January 2002.  Finally, in 2007, Bootstraps became a self-governing organization in an effort to begin a new chapter of growth for the organization.


The Bootstraps Foundation exists to assist persevering young men and women across Middle Tennessee who have, despite severe obstacles and hardships in life, miraculously placed themselves in a position to attend college. Each year, high school principals and counselors nominate one qualifying student from the senior class.  Choosing these deserving applicants is difficult.  We realize that our scholarships may make the difference between someone being able to better themselves through higher education or extinguishing the hope for these young people. Our goal is to increase the number of scholarships that we offer to the youth of Middle Tennessee, every year.