Youthful outlook: At 55, Pickett spends life helping local young people

By Bayne Hughes | Living 50 Plus

Kids in Decatur Youth Services programs call him “Mr. Rico,” and it’s a term of both respect and endearment for Enrico Pickett Sr.

Although he’s 55, Pickett spends much of his life helping those much younger, whether he’s coordinating Youth Services sports leagues, teaching health and sex education or spending time with his children and grandchildren.

“I love kids and I love helping people,” Pickett said.

As Youth Services’ sports coordinator, Pickett organizes athletic leagues for mostly underprivileged youth and manages the Carrie Matthews swimming pool.

Fellow DYS employee Kurtistyne White said Pickett earned the nickname “Mr. Rico” from the youth. He knows how to deal with the children, many of whom are from single-parent families or are living with a grandparent, she said.

“The kids respect Mr. Rico,” White said. “He also respects the kids and they know it. It takes time to build rapport and he’s willing to do that.”

Pickett said he uses this respect to bridge the age gap with the youth. He said he listens to them when some adults don’t.

“When they ask a question, I say ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘no sir,’ and I expect the same from them,” Pickett said. “Teenagers today just want to be heard. Too often, they’re told that they’re bad or adults just want to intimidate them.”

Pickett is involved with a lot of young people who are dealing with adult-created problems, which he acknowledged is one of the most frustrating parts of his job. He said he tries to avoid judging people when working in Youth Services “because we don’t know what the kids are going through.”

He often transports the youth from the schools to the different programs that DYS offers. He said they know they must say good afternoon or good morning when they open the door to get in the van.

Pickett said he tries to manage the fine line between keeping the kids in line and smiling and laughing with them.

“We joke but I don’t allow it to go too far,” he said.

A Decatur native, Pickett said it also helps to talk about his experiences and those who helped him along the way.

DYS Director Brandon Watkins has known Pickett, who is eight years older than him, since they were young.

“Rico was a really good basketball player who passed the ball extremely well,” Watkins said. “And he was always taking care of us younger kids like setting us up in a good position to score.”

Pickett’s father worked at 3M Decatur and his mother was a nurse at what is now Decatur Morgan Hospital. His father also owned a gas station on Alabama 20 near what was then Lakeview Elementary (now Leon Sheffield Magnet Elementary School).

“I used to work over at the gas station after school and work there pumping gas for people,” Pickett said.

He graduated in 1985 from Decatur High and attended Calhoun Community College for a year and a half. He said “life happened” so he didn’t earn a college degree, but he’s still able to help people.

Pickett worked after finishing high school at the now-closed Lurleen B. Wallace Developmental Center as a job coach. He worked at the Third Street Boys and Girls Club before joining DYS.

Even at 55, Pickett still dreams of finishing his college degree. However, his priority is helping his two youngest children, Draylin, 17, and Julius, 16, through college after they finish high school. His four oldest children, Rico Jr., Brianna, Andreia and Tobias, are adults and he has 10 grandchildren.

Watkins said he’s not worried that Pickett doesn’t yet have a college degree. He offered promotions in Youth Services but said Pickett turned them down because he enjoys sports and wanted to stay in his current role.

“Not having a college degree hasn’t affected him,” Watkins said. “There are a lot of people who have college degrees and they aren’t nearly as effective as Rico in doing their jobs. He’s a great man of our community and people trust him.”

Pickett is so well respected that former high school players from both sides of the city are willing to play in the annual Austin-Decatur all-star game to benefit DYS. He also serves on the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame board.

Watkins said this respect and trust are among the reasons Pickett was so successful in holding the basketball and baseball leagues this year despite coming off two years in which they weren’t held for various reasons.

The Carrie Matthews Recreation Center has been closed for two years because of foundation problems. The coronavirus pandemic kept DYS from holding baseball in 2020 and basketball for the 2020-21 season.

Pickett had to find places to hold a basketball season, which was limited to basically six weeks. Working with Decatur City Schools, the DYS teams practiced at some of the elementary school gymnasiums and played the games at Austin Junior High.

“He got 200 kids to come out for basketball and 300 for baseball this season,” Watkins said. “That’s pretty good considering our limitations.”

Pickett was ordained a year and a half ago and serves as youth pastor at Progressive Outreach Church.

“I ran from it for four years before I finally accepted God’s calling,” Pickett said. “I don’t want to be full-time pastor. My focus is on being a youth pastor, but you never what God has in store for me.”

White said Pickett’s church involvement and Christianity show through in his DYS job.

“He doesn’t take his ministry lightly,” White said. “He’s always talking about his faith.”