This is an updated version of the story which was published in print on Oct. 6, 2019.
WESTERLY — Helen Giles Mochetti has held a variety of positions during her 50 years as an employee of the Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, but it's in the library's children's room, where she has lovingly presided for the last 30 years as head of children's services, that she's made her most memorable mark.
"She has touched the lives of thousands and brought joy to so many individuals who have passed through our doors," said Brigitte Hopkins, the library's executive director. "Helen has built relationships with a lot of the patrons ... she has seen some grow up before her eyes only to return with their own children."
Listening to "Miss Helen" read aloud from one of her favorite picture books at Story Hour has become a family tradition for generations of local readers, many of whom say time spent in the children's room are now precious memories.
"It's amazing that she's been reading to children — and capturing their hearts — for so long," said Bonnie Pizza of Westerly, who attends story hour regularly with her 19-month old granddaughter, Juliana, just as she did with her two sons, Juliana's dad, Christopher, 36, and her uncle, Nicholas, 31. "My boys were surprised that she was still doing story time. I feel blessed that I am able to take my granddaughter to something so special and something they participated in too."
"She's so enthusiastic when she reads," said Pizza, and "captures the attention of the little ones."
She also captures the attention of fashion conscious grandmothers. Pizza said she appreciates how Mochetti dresses and accessorizes for the season — in the autumn, a leaf pin with matching earrings and a sweater patterned with leaves, for example. "She changes her outfit to fit the season, holiday or particular time of year," Pizza said.
Children's Room Librarian Krystal Laharty said she was inspired to become a librarian because of Mochetti and described her mentor as "an institution and staple in this community."
"I've watched family generations grow with her," said Laharty. "Many adults have remarked on the impact she had on them growing up."
"It has been such a privilege to grow and learn with her myself," Laharty added. "She is a true pillar and cornerstone to us, and it is beyond commendable that she has given so much to the community for 50 years."
Stonington native Helen Giles had just earned a master's degree in library science from the University of Rhode Island when she was hired by former library executive director William Alexander as acquisitions librarian. She began her library career on Oct. 1, 1969, and worked on acquisitions, cataloging, reference and community services.
It was in 1977, while helping Dot Benson reorganize materials in the local history section when she met a Lido Mochetti, a library volunteer. The two bonded over local history and classical music, became friends and we were married in 1980. The Mochettis and their daughter, Alexandra, have spent much of their lives in and around the library and park.
In her position as head of children's services, Mochetti has managed the curation of the children's collection, created and organized displays, designed children's programs and managed the Summer Reading Program.
Mochetti, who graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in English literature, has met thousands of people and done many unusual things during her library career. She's eaten crickets, held snakes, worked for six executive directors, and witnessed two significant additions. She and the children’s room have move around — from the first floor, to the second floor, to the lower level. She has also observed changes in literary tastes and the advent of the internet.
"It's definitely not boring," said Mochetti one afternoon last week as she sat in a corner of the children's room. "There's always something new and different. The time flew by."
Working with and for people who genuinely care makes it easy to come to work and easy to remain at the same place for so long, said Mochetti, whose mother and grandmother used to take her to the park and library when she was a child.
"It's really thanks to the staff and administration," said Mochetti, who also volunteers to read for Head Start and at local nursery schools. "Everyone here is encouraged to do what they do best."
Mochetti praised her colleagues in the children's room for coming up with so many creative displays and programs — from the paper pirate ship and cardboard pizza kitchen (complete with felt pepperoni, peppers and mushrooms) to the Baby Yoga and Reading with Therapy Dogs programs. All are designed with an eye to improving children's literacy.
"Maybe it's libraries in general," Mochetti said. "We all love what we're doing. We love spreading the word about books and reading."
When the library created a Facebook post marking Mochetti's milestone on Oct. 1, hundreds of people posted comments applauding and thanking the woman they credited with being a positive influence in their lives.
"My kids grew up wrapped in your loving and nurturing arms," wrote one Facebooker. "Bless you for helping me to instill a deep love of reading in them."
"Thanks Helen for always greeting my family with a warm smile!," wrote another.
"Miss Helen’s story time was a huge part of my children’s preschool years," wrote another user. "Without a doubt, her engagement and our regular visits to the library to see her, contributed to their love of books and reading."
"Thank you all!!" Mochetti posted in reply. "I am overwhelmed by how many of you took time out of busy days to comment on my good fortune!!"
"There are so many ways to encourage children to read these days," said a modest Mochetti, a firm believer that play is the most important work of a young child.
Mochetti is also the library's "unofficial internal historian," Hopkins said. "If we can’t find some historical information about the library, park, employees, or town history, chances are that Helen knows the answer."
"The library is indebted to Helen for what she has built for the children in this community," added Hopkins. "She has helped create a magical space that children do not what to leave. The wonderment that takes place here is what feeds children’s love of lifelong learning and helps build literacy, community spirit, and social connections."
"I am forever grateful," Hopkins said.