SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As a second-grader, Blake Delaplane was giving away his “Star Wars” figurines to foster children.
At 14, the Gold River, Calif., resident signed up for the two-year Congressional Award program that’s part public service, part personal development and all challenging.
Along the way, he helped build homes in Mexico and spent time playing with orphans during spring break, attended summer programs at Stanford and Yale, and interned at Congressman Dan Lungren’s district office, also in Gold River.
“I’ve always wanted to test myself, my character and my abilities,” Delaplane said.
The Granite Bay High School senior’s ambition and dedication to others isn’t something he developed overnight. Nor by himself.
They were attributes cultivated by his parents.
Drake and Rhonda Delaplane worked hard to ensure they instilled a sense of altruism in their son, from providing encouragement to showing him by doing things themselves.
They wanted to raise a thoughtful, successful child. It worked — and then some. Their experience provides a template.
“To use a metaphor, when a child expresses a spark about something, blow on it,” said 48-year-old Drake Delaplane. “It’s a parent’s job to provide the fuel.”
Earlier this summer, he watched his 16-year-old son become one of just 252 young people nationwide to receive the prestigious Congressional Award’s gold medal. It wasn’t just the hardware, though. Drake Delaplane knew what his son had learned as an intern in Lungren’s offices and as author of a resolution denouncing an African terrorist group’s use of children in its militia.
“After receiving the medal,” Blake Delaplane said, “I have a pretty good idea of who I am and what I want to do in this world.”
Blake Delaplane is an only child whose school photos adorn the hallway in the family’s Gold River home. The decision to have one child was multidimensional, but one factor was the couple’s belief in dedicating their efforts to rearing one person completely — mind, body and soul.
“I wanted to do everything the right way,” said Rhonda Delaplane, 44. “In order to give it everything and be a working mom, I wanted to have just one.”
Many parents of so-called singletons often say they are chastised by family and even strangers for not having a second child, but researchers have found that “only children” are high achievers across socioeconomic lines because there is no dilution of resources, be it money or time. This leads not only to higher academic performance but to higher self-esteem.
Focusing on a child’s autonomy, competence and connectedness, instead of pressuring and controlling children, is key to maximizing success, said Wendy Grolnick, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
“You can’t really create something like conscientiousness or philanthropic spirit,” she said in a telephone interview. “You can nurture it.”