Friends/alumni of Rising Stars and buddies and parents of the JSPACC in front of the Tanaka Farms pumpkin patch.


On Oct. 12, alumni and friends of the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program paired up with buddies from the Japanese-Speaking Parents Association of Children with Challenges and visited Tanaka Farms in Irvine.

Tanaka Farms, while located in the heart of Orange County suburbia, offers a petting zoo, corn maze, vegetable and pumpkin picking.

Rising Stars alumni Taito Ozaki (RS 8) and Ashley Honma (RS 3) on the Tanaka Farms wagon ride with buddies Leah, Felix, and Taisho.

At the start of the event, the volunteers were given an overview of the day’s activities, carefully reviewed specific needs and behavior of the buddies they were paired with, and introduced themselves to the buddies’ parents. The group of 50+ toured the farm on a tractor-pulled wagon and even had a chance to see a pumpkin launched from a cannon!

Although some of the buddies were hesitant at first, with the gentle encouragement of the volunteers, they petted the goats and sheep in the petting zoo. Next up was the corn maze — some found it challenging and others zipped through to find the tall red flag at the center.

The final activity of the day was the vegetable and pumpkin picking. The onions and peas had specific harvesting instructions that the volunteers guided their buddies to follow, just like the farmers do.

In past years, the group has gotten together to enjoy the fall tradition of carving pumpkins, so this year, the buddies had a chance to pick the perfect pumpkins out of the hundreds available at the farm to take home to carve with their families.

This year there were many first-time volunteers and buddies who had the chance to experience something new outside of their day-to-day lives. One of the volunteers commented: “ This was fun! Tanaka Farms was a great idea — all the kids seemed really excited to pick their own vegetables and pumpkins.”

A special thank you to Tanaka Farms for welcoming the group and sponsoring the buddies’ and volunteers’ visit. For more information on ongoing public activities at Tanaka Farms, visit

Support was provided by the Rising Stars Alumni Committee, part of the Rising Stars Youth Leadership Program, a six-month program for high school students designed to train leaders and to inspire youth involvement in the Japanese American community. For more information, visit The program started its 12th year on Oct. 25.

The Japanese-Speaking Parents Association of Children with Challenges assists the parents and families of children with special needs in the Japanese-speaking community. For more information, visit

Erika Fisher is the Rising Stars youth leadership alumni advisor.

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