Those who assume that Seth Knight is Claude Russell's son usually go uncorrected.

Those who assume that Seth Knight is Claude Russell's son usually go uncorrected.

Russell is his mentor, but 9-year-old Seth describes him as his "big brother." And Russell, 28, considers Seth part of his family, too. "He's one of my best friends - really, seriously," Russell said. "We spend so much time together that when people see me without him, they ask, 'Where's Seth?'"

They met almost two years ago through Simba, a 22-year-old program of Franklin County Children Services in which African-American men mentor African-American boys, most of whom have no father or other adult male in their lives.

The program has 60 pairs, but finding new volunteers has been notoriously difficult. An additional 60 boys need mentors, having been recommended for Simba by Children Services caseworkers.

The agency works with more than 28,000 children a year, so program director Steve Jones thinks the waiting list for Simba would be much longer if he actively recruited children. "It would just be ridiculous - hundreds," he said. "I would be inundated with kids."

In August, Children Services launched the recruiting campaign "100 Men for 100 Boys," hoping to attract the number of volunteers Simba had in the early 1990s. Representatives visit companies, colleges and churches monthly to provide information about Simba and other volunteer opportunities. The agency even offers incentives for current volunteers to refer new ones: Since 2007, it has awarded about 40 Kroger gift cards, in $50 increments, to successful recruiters.

Volunteer numbers have been rising in other programs - the agency has about 300 "friendship" volunteers and 90 mentors in Malaika, the program for African-American females - but Simba hasn't seen a similar boost. At an August event for the agency, with entertainment at the Franklin Park Conservatory, five men showed interest in volunteering for Simba.

Jones blames the economy, thinking potential volunteers might have taken on second jobs. "They feel they just don't have enough time," he said. "But we only ask that they see the child twice a month."

Children Services offers some free programs for mentors and their charges and distributes donated tickets to games and events. It also sponsors events related to African-American heritage; simba means "young lion" in Swahili.

Although Russell works in the mental-health field and is highly involved at his church, he drives from Canal Winchester to pick up Seth on the Northeast Side two or three times a week. He also tutors Seth, among other children, in an after-school program.

The duo has been to museums, sporting events and to Indianapolis for an agency-sponsored trip to the Circle City Classic, a football game between historically black colleges. Seth has also visited Russell's kin around Ohio.

Many of their get-togethers are simpler. Russell often invites him wherever he's already going - to church, to grab a burger, to shop for groceries - and Seth gladly accepts the offers.

"I'm bored when I'm at home," said Seth, who lives with his mother and five of his nine siblings.

Said Russell, who is single: "I'm one of the busiest people I know, yet I find time to spend with him. Those little things mean so much to a child - it's someone showing them that they care enough to take a little part of their day and give it to them."