Casey Tomamichael lights the way to a brighter future

Zoe Askew

Casey Tomamichael completed her secondary school education at Sale Specialist School in 2021. Today Casey works alongside groundskeeper Steve Humphrey as part of her Horticulture traineeship.

Zoe Askew

Casey Tomamichael is lighting the path to a brighter, more prosperous future for those living with barriers with the support of Marie Bryant from Workways Australia and Sale Specialist School principal Jamie Gay.

Year 12 is an exciting time for many Australian children. The future tickles the end of stretched out fingertips. Opportunities and experiences are seemingly plentiful, and newfound independence is tantalising. However, the future beyond year 12 can seem much less opportunistic for those living with barriers.

The number of Australians living with a disability furthering their education beyond year 12 has increased over the years with the support of government grants, such as the Higher Education Disability Support Program. However, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only 9 per cent of people living with a disability aged 15–64 were studying for a non-school qualification at TAFE or university in 2018. These numbers represent the significant number of men and women missing an opportunity to grow, learn and develop in adulthood.

Horticulture trainee Casey Tomamichael with supervisor and Sale Specialist School groundskeeper Steve Humphrey.

Casey Tomamichael, a vibrant young woman who lives with an intellectual disability, completed her final year of secondary education at Sale Specialist School in November 2021. Six months before completing year 12, Sale Specialist School principal Jamie Gay introduced Casey to Marie Bryant from Workways’ Disability Employment Services.

Marie has had over 30 years of experience in community services and is working hard to fight the stigma surrounding disability and create more opportunities for those with barriers. Through her position at Workways, Marie strives to change the attitudes of employers, parents and education providers to give Australians like Casey every opportunity to lead a bright and fulfilling future.

In late 2021, Marie made the trip to Sale Specialist School, prospecting for new clients to support through Workways Disability Employment Services Program. School principal, Mr Jamie Gay, thought of Year 12 student Casey Tomamichael. Casey harbours a passion and love for the outdoors and has always wanted to pursue a career in Horticulture. Marie’s visit could not have come at a better time as Mr Gay wished to organise a traineeship for Casey; however, he was uncertain how to initiate a traineeship for his nature-loving student.

Mr Gay introduced Marie and Casey after the meeting, and the work began. Marie was determined to do everything she possibly could to help Casey and provide her with the best opportunities to achieve her goals. After countless phone calls and inquiries and with the help of Mr Gay, Marie secured Casey a traineeship with AGA, one of the largest providers of employment and training services in Australia.

Today Casey is working at the Sale Specialist School alongside groundskeeper Steve Humphry as part of her new traineeship. For Casey, this traineeship provides much more than a Certificate III in Horticulture; it supports her continuous growth and development, provides her with a supportive community and gives her the best chance at gaining long-term sustainable employment.

Horticulture trainee Casey Tomamichael with supervisor and Sale Specialist School groundskeeper Steve Humphrey.

Mr Humphrey, who has been the groundskeeper at Sale Specialist School for almost three years, says Casey is doing a tremendous job.

“Casey is doing a great job; having her on board means there is an extra pair of hands. As a result, jobs are getting done quicker, and more gets done in a day,” said Mr Humphrey.

As part of a Horticultural traineeship, Casey attends TAFE here in Sale.

“When I am not working here, I go to TAFE just down the road,” Casey says.

“Sometimes, Casey and I will sit down together on rainy days, and we spend a few hours going through the textbooks,” Mr Humphry added.

“We are given two books, one with questions and another to write all our answers in,” Casey said.

“When I did my Certificate II, I think I ended up heaps of books, at least six or so.”

Casey says she is thrilled to be doing a horticultural traineeship because she gets to spend most of her time outdoors.

“I love being outdoors, in the fresh air, not being cooped up inside,” says Casey.

Marie from Workways has played an influential role in Casey’s traineeship and has made a lasting impression on the smiley 18-year-old.

“Marie has been very very important in helping me get the right amount of hours and getting other organisations involved like AGA so I could do my traineeship,” Casey says.

“Now AGA is helping me get work out at a nursery near Maffra one day a week.”

With the dedication and support of Marie from Workways and principal Mr Gay, Casey is the first person to secure a traineeship at Sale Specialist School.

“After my traineeship, I would love to continue working here at the school if they want to employ still employ me next year,” Casey reveals.

Cases like Casey’s remind Marie why she loves her job so much.

“It’s very rewarding what I do,” Marie says.

“For Casey, this is just a great outcome.”

Marie from Workways hopes to attract more schools like Sale Specialist School to help students like Casey with services like the Disability Employment Services program, as it’s far too common for students from specialist schools not to further their studies beyond year 12.

“Unfortunately, kids from specialist schools often fall through the gaps,” Marie said.

Casey’s hard work and determination with the support of Mr Gay, Mr Humphry, Marie from Workways and mum Cindy have unlocked a future full of possibilities. Casey’s story is a beacon of hope for others living with barriers, shining a light on a future filled with opportunity, growth, community, support, and triumphs.