Libraries are the perfect place to find your next read. (Marcel De Grijs/Dreamstime/TNS)

A group of retired and current area educators are spreading the word about the importance of early childhood literacy through the nonprofit organization Literacy Links for Little Ones Inc.

Their message is simple, but important: It’s never too early to read to your children.

That’s why the group offers free subscriptions to Babybug, an educational magazine for babies and toddlers that parents can read aloud to little ones.

“You can start reading to children when they’re born,” said Ann Marie (Stalteri) Mannino, a retired kindergarten teacher and a member of the group.

Subscriptions are available to any family who delivers a baby at Indiana Regional Medical Center, and recipients get a new magazine each month for a year.

The group got its start in 2007. According to the group, teachers Valerie Birch and Rita Ott discussed how children with “a rich background of language and literature” were performing better in school than those who had little to no exposure to stories and rhymes. They joined forces with Louise Peterman, who “got the ball rolling.”

“Studies have shown the earlier children are exposed to books, the better they do in school,” Mannino said.

The teachers decided to form the group, with a focus on the following goals:

• Educating parents on the importance of reading aloud to children

• Providing quality literature in order to foster a lifelong love of reading

• And linking the talents and resources of parents, educators and the community.

The group officially formed a nonprofit organization seven months later and provided 22 subscriptions in the following year.

To date, that number is 1,787, bolstered by a partnership with IRMC Physician Group OB/GYN practices, where packets of information are provided to expectant mothers receiving care.

“It just shows you how a little group can make a big difference,” Mannino said.

The number of members in the group fluctuates, but at the average meeting, seven or eight are normally in attendance. In addition to Birch, Ott, Peterman and Mannino, other members are Marsha Gatti, Linda Cribbs, Dr. Susan Fello, Denise Dragich, Laura Irvin and Patricia Hilliard.

They meet once a month and hold a fund drive each April, soliciting for donations through a letter drive.

Looking to the future, the group is considering an expanded focus to include involvement for preschool-aged children, a topic they discussed earlier this year.

“Reading is so important to everything a person does in their lifetime,” Mannino said.

She said the group encourages reading to children as young as zero and even to teenagers.

“Even children who are older still enjoy someone reading to them,” she said. “Reading is everything.”

For more information on the group, including how to donate to the program, visit literacy-links.org.

Margaret Weaver has served as a Gazette staff writer since 2006. She covers Clymer Borough, the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District and Blairsville court, and also works in the areas of layout, design and editing.