Published: Aug 22, 2011 6:35 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 22, 2011 11:23 PM EDT

For Zani Raney and her students, reading time is one of the highlights of the school day.

"There is absolutely nothing more important that they can do than reading to and with their kids," said Raney on the value of parents promoting reading at home.

"Books are everything to us," said 4-year-old Chaz as he proudly displayed a book about the alphabet.

During group reading time, Monday's book of choice was "Three Billy Goats Gruff".

For some in the captivated audience at the Edison State College Child Development Center, that book and the others in the classroom may be the only ones they see all day.

"For many of our children, they don't have books in their homes," said Robin Gretz with the Early Learning Coalition of Southwest Florida.

So the coalition is kicking off another year of "Literacy Buddies", a program aimed at promoting correspondence, communication and a love of reading.

"The child starts by writing them a letter, and once the buddy receives it, they purchase a book," explained Gretz of the simple process.

Volunteers choose the books based on the letters received from students. The books need to be colorful, educational, and specific to a child's interests.

About 1,500 students are expected to take part in the program this year, but there are currently only about 700 buddies on the roster.

"We need more," Raney said. "We need more literacy buddies all the time and the kids love it so much. It's just a very important program."  

To become a buddy, visit the Early Learning Coalition's website at:

Or you email with your name, address and phone number.