Volunteer has a ball coaching people with disabilities

Peter (Yogi) Houlis works by day as a produce supervisor for a Western Australia grocery store chain and as a part-time DJ and MC at special events. But he also spends a lot of his free time coaching adults with disabilities in the intricacies of wheelchair rugby and providing commentary for wheelchair basketball comps. After one of his good friends commandeered him into volunteering for Rebound WA as a head coach, he’s still having a ball 12 years later!

Coaching: Peter has been volunteering with Rebound Australia as a coach and commentator for about 12 years.

What is your day job?

I’m a fruit and vegetable 2IC with Farmer Jacks in Claremont, a suburb of Perth.

Where did the nickname Yogi come from?

I got the nickname Yogi from the army. I spent 18 years as a member of the Australian Army as a reservist. At the time I was called “Bear”, but after an exercise with the Canadian Infantry here in Perth in 1988, they said to me, “Stuff the bear, we’ll call you Yogi,” and it has stuck ever since! Now my car has the plates “Yogi”, and my part-time business is called “DJ Yogi-B”!

How did you come to volunteer for Rebound WA?

After getting out of the army 12 years ago, my good friend Ben Ettridge, then head coach of the Perth Wheelcats, asked me to come down to see the Wheelcats train. As I had nothing better to do, I turned up at the Herb Graham Rec Centre in Mirrabooka and watched them.

After they had finished, the next group on the court were the West Coast Enforcers wheelchair rugby team. Ben came up and asked me about the rugby team and how they were training, to which I opened my big gob and proceeded to say where they were going wrong and how they needed some sort of direction. With that, Ben turned around and said: “Congrats, you’re their new head coach!”

How do you fit in time for volunteering when you work full time and DJ part time?  

Bahahahahaha! That’s a trick question, right? There is no such thing. It all blends into one. Once you’re in, you just get involved more and more!

What are your duties for Rebound WA?

Jack of all trades and master of none! With wheelchair rugby, I pretty much run the show. I do have help from Rebound WA, but down on the ground, it’s all me. I also have some volunteers who come down, depending on the time of the year!

How often do you help out?

I always put my hand up if Rebound WA needs a hand.

What does a typical volunteer shift look like for you?

As I said before, it all depends on the time of the year. When the rugby is on, I’m there every Wednesday from about 5pm till 9.30pm, sorting out the chairs and repairs. Come basketball season, I’ll be the person they look for in regards to commentating the game and providing an upbeat atmosphere before, during and after the games.

I have also been a chauffeur driving athletes to and from events, and even got “volunteered” to be a sports commentator on the radio. If I had to break it down per day, it would look something like this:

Monday: on the radio – two hours

Monday night: wheelchair basketball – one hour (commentary)

Wednesday: wheelchair rugby – four hours (coaching)

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: Depending on the season, wheelchair basketball men’s and women’s national comp for four hours on Fridays and six hours on both Saturdays and Sundays. (commentary)

Commentating: Peter loves commentating and gives the wheelchair basketball and rugby comps a festive and jolly atmosphere.

What was the radio work about?

I commentated for 91.3 SportFM, which is a community radio station. We used to have a program called “Spoked,” Australia’s only show dedicated to athletes with a disability. We covered results, interviews and general information about wheelchair sports in Western Australia, and provided an insight into the achievements of athletes with a disability at all levels of their sport from grassroots to Paralympians. It started in 2010 and finished in 2016.

What fundraisers have you worked on?

For wheelchair rugby, we organised a poker tournament, a sausage sizzle, a Star Wars quiz night, a mini inter-club rugby comp and some other minor raffles.

For Rebound WA, I have been a part of their annual awards, quiz night, fundraisers and various other functions.

You also did some volunteer work for Sock it to Sarcoma a few years back?

Yes, I was Sock it to Sarcoma’s MC at their fundraising ball. I did it two or three times, and it was a great success!

Have you developed new skills through your volunteer work? 

My volunteer work has taught me that people with disabilities are human beings. Also, when my father suddenly became an incomplete quad, my volunteering helped me how to deal with it and not to panic.

What are the joys and challenges of being a volunteer?

The joys and challenges are too many to mention! Once you stop feeling sorry for people with disabilities, and get to know them and be a part of their life, the challenges fade away, and the joys are the only thing that matters!

What’s the funniest or most poignant thing that has happened to you at Rebound WA?

Two events will stay with me: the first was coming in third in the national competition after years of being the underdogs and wooden spooners!

The second would be watching the guys and girls put up the fight of their lives against the Australian Invictus Wheelchair Rugby Team at Bendat stadium last year. Even though we lost by four points, we gave them a run for their money…

Holding onto Paralympic bronze, silver and gold medals would be a highlight as well!

In your opinion what are the benefits of volunteering?

Different places of volunteering have different benefits. Where I have been involved with Rebound WA, the benefits of working with people with a disability are very rewarding and satisfying!

What has been most satisfying to you?

Watching the guys and girls in their favourite sport, competing at the national and international level, and knowing that I played a small part in their success.

How would you sell people on the idea of volunteering?

You can’t sell the idea of volunteering…You need to get out there and just do it or in my case, get “volunteered”!

You won Rebound WA’s Volunteer of the Year Award several times. How did that make you feel?

I’m proud to say that I have won the trifecta: 2009, 2012 and 2018! Not many people get to have that honour. I had no words to describe my happiness being honoured as their Volunteer of the Year. It makes me feel proud of being involved in something that helps people with a disability. To win it three times…I’m over the moon!

Anything you would like to add?  Does Rebound WA need more volunteers?

You can’t have enough volunteers! We need to make it a part of our life. You don’t know what you’re missing out on, not volunteering in some capacity!

To find out more about their work, volunteering or supporter activities, visit Rebound WA.