Richard Pickens gives back with loveBy CATHRYN CARTWRIGHT,
A good work ethic and a selfless heart is a good combination to have in today’s society. One Yazoo City local has managed to live his life to the fullest, and has mastered the art of balancing a full-time career in the farming industry with being a full-time volunteer in our community and communities on the other side of the world.
Richard Pickens was originally born in 1970 in Arkansas to Mrs. Jimmie and the late Mr. Jimmy Pickens. He and his brother Allen Pickens arrived in Yazoo City with their parents in 1975. Richard attended school at Manchester Academy until the eleventh grade, when he transferred to another school in Jackson.
After finishing high school, Richard went straight into working full-time for the family business, which he had been doing almost every summer during his school years.
"We started out doing what is called the wheat harvest," he said. "We went all the way from Texas to Montana. We would go out and cut crops for other farmers also."
Over the years, Richard has been involved in various areas of the farming industry, but his current job is working for a local irrigation company called PrecisionKing.
"We make soil moisture units and telemetry-based products that farmers use," Richard said. "Our business is in the business of saving on the number of gallons of water you pump out of the ground."
He added that much of his "Agribusiness" experience over the years has allowed him to continue working relationships with many farmers in the area and get to know farmers all over the Mississippi River region.
"PrecisionKing is known throughout the mid-south from Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri, all the way to Illinois and Iowa," Richard said. "We have some in Texas, and we actually have some equipment that we service in Canada."
Water conservation is a big part of what PrecisionKing does, Pickens said, because of restrictions on how much water a farm can pump per year.
"We are trying to help conserve water by irrigating on a timely management system, and not watering when you don't need to be watering," he said. "We pretty much work year-round. In the spring and summer months we are out in the field, but then in the winter and fall months we are doing the other management practices like soil sampling, and getting ready for the next crop year."
Aside from his day job, Richard is also involved in several volunteer associations around Yazoo County.
Richard has been involved with the Yazoo County Volunteer Fire Association for the last several years, and currently serves as the chief of the District 3 Volunteer Fire Department, which is located near the Yazoo County Barn.
"We work the five-mile area outside of the city limits of Yazoo City in every direction," he said. "We will run about 300 calls a year just in the volunteer fire department."
Part of his job as chief is to lead the department in working with Yazoo County Emergency Management and helping the volunteer fire department maintain its Class 7 rating.
"I have close to 60 volunteers just at the District 3 fire department," he said. "We also work together with the other seven volunteer fire departments in the county if they need us."
Richard said that Emergency Management has given radios to each volunteer, and that all volunteers attend classes regularly to ensure that they are certified and educated enough to handle all first response calls.
"Over the years the county has qualified for several grants so we have been able to get a radio grant, which replaced our old radio system," he said. "We have been able to get new turnout gear for firefighters and other fire protection equipment, and oxygen tanks and air packs that you wear when going into a house fire."
Most of the volunteers, including Pickens, have become accustomed to responding to emergency calls at 2 a.m. and using their personal vehicles to get to the scene.
Aside from answering emergency calls at a moment's notice, the District 3 volunteers can be seen holding duty at the station, and gathering together for meetings.
"We have meetings on the first Tuesday of every month," Pickens said. "We also have other meetings during the month to talk about what has gone on during that week if we had a fire and what we could do better."
Pickens said that one of the ways they get funding for the volunteer departments is to operate a concession stand at the Yazoo County fair. He added that it is always a good experience when local volunteers can work together to raise money for a common goal.
Aside from his duties with the District 3 volunteers, Pickens is a member of the Mid-Mississippi Strike Team, who assist in searching for lost or missing people, and is also works with search and rescue teams in and around Yazoo County.
Pickens is also a volunteer with the Yazoo County 4H and Livestock Association.
"My daughter KaRaye Jordan showed cows and pigs growing up, and she showed her last cow when she was 18," he said. "She is 26 now, and I am still volunteering with 4H."
Pickens serves on the Yazoo County Livestock Directors Board, and helps with putting together the banquet and the show once a year inside the 4H barn on Gordon Avenue.
Pickens is also a dedicated member of First Baptist Church in Yazoo City, where he continues to stay involved with a variety of church programs and activities.
Perhaps the most influential work Pickens has been a part of in recent years is the local Christian organization GraceWater, in which he travels with other volunteers to rural areas of Africa to help drill water wells and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
"I have been going to Africa now for three years," he said. "Personally, I think it's one of the greatest things that you can be involved in is going somewhere where nobody has water and the need is there. We get the opportunity to drill them a well, get them clean water, and then share the Living Water with them."
Pickens said that members of the GraceWater team are currently over in Africa working with people over the next few weeks. He added that he is looking forward to going back again in November.
Pickens added that one of his favorite things to do is take candy and deflated soccer balls with him in his suitcase to share with children in the orphanages that they visit.
"We help work in some orphanages while we are there," he said. "I have gotten to spend the last three years seeing those same kids, and those kids know who we are. When you do something with them and they remember it, that's an impact we are having on their life too."
Pickens added that another rewarding part of working with the people of Zimbabwe has been attending their church services.
"We have a dedication service every time that we drill a well," he said. "And church in Africa is whole lot different from church in America. When the Lord gets to moving in an African church, you get to dancing and singing and you know it’s real. You can look in their eyes and hear it in their voices."
Pickens said that his work ethic comes from learning and working from his father, and that his desire to volunteer himself in so many ways comes from his faith in the Lord.
"We are supposed to be about helping other people," he said. "I love being able to help people though our church or whatever we are doing community wise. I love being able to come together, and if we have somebody that is doing a fundraiser, just let me know that I can do to help."
Pickens said that he could not do all the work he does without the love and support of his wife Valarie over the years, who always helps in any way that she can with all of his many activities.
"If it wasn't for my wife's support there are a lot of things that I probably would not be able to do volunteer-wise," he said. "It’s hard on them when we are gone on a mission trip, and they are here by themselves, so she supports me in everything that we do."
Pickens said that anyone who has an interest in volunteering should look into some of the many community organizations in Yazoo City who need support.
"There is always somewhere that you are needed," he said. "You have got the Manna House that serves meals to people, or the schools that have men who get up in the morning and go out and be a dad for some of the children who don't have dads in their life. That's a huge need in this community. Whatever need it may be that you find, be it the volunteer fire department, serving in your church, or just being that person that somebody can talk to about a problem they have going on. If you just open yourself up you would be surprised at what the Lord will have for you."