Fundraiser honours checkers champ who experienced homelessness but was 'big into helping others'

Winnipeggers stretched themselves Saturday for a yoga fundraiser to help raise money for a local shelter in honour of a much-loved man who experienced homelessness for many years, and is remembered by those who knew him as a top-rated checkers player who cared deeply about others.

Leroy Adams befriended many people in the city, says Lighthouse Mission fundraiser organizer Jody Zarn

Jody Zarn, right, is shown with her friend Leroy Adams, who died last year. He was very health conscious, she says, so she felt a fundraiser in his honour focused on yoga and mental health would be 'the perfect fit.' (Rebecca Schroeder/Red Photo Co.)

Winnipeggers stretched themselves Saturday for a yoga fundraiser to help raise money for a local shelter in honour of a much-loved man who experienced homelessness for many years, and is remembered by those who knew him as a top-rated checkers player who cared deeply about others.

Event organizer Jody Zarn said the Team Leroy Yoga Wellness Day, which also included a panel discussion on mental health, was held to honour Leroy Adams, a man originally from Guyana whom she befriended when he was living on the streets of Winnipeg

Adams, who died in November 2021, had been experiencing chronic homelessness for 15 years, and during the last seven, he was completely homeless.

"He would spend his days in City Place mall or the library. In the summer, he'd go to Assiniboine Park, and then at night he would go to a bus shelter on the corner of River and Osborne," she said.

"We wanted to do something to honour him and continue to give to the community, which is what Leroy really wanted. He was very big into helping others."

Zarn met Adams three years ago, she wrote in a piece for CBC Manitoba earlier this year. She later discovered he had been one of the best checkers players in Canada at one point.

He became ranked as the third-best player in Barbados, where he grew up, and was later ranked 12th-best in the world, she wrote.

Lighthouse Mission director Peter McMullen and Zarn stand together at the University of Winnipeg after the Team Leroy Yoga Wellness Day. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

She decided to organize Saturday's fundraiser and panel at the University of Winnipeg's Axworthy Health and RecPlex because he was also very health-conscious and a yoga practitioner, she said, as well as being a proponent for mental health.

"We knew that yoga and a panel discussion would be a perfect fit," she said.

Zarn said the fundraiser for Lighthouse Mission is ongoing, and she hopes to raise $1,500 for the organization. 

'You were drawn to him'

Lighthouse Mission's director, Peter McMullen, said the organization is currently experiencing a downturn in donations, and $1,500 would mean it could provide 7,500 sandwiches to distribute to vulnerable Winnipeggers.

"We can use [the money in] other places, too. We can buy those socks we need for dry feet. We can buy the mitts we need for dry and warm hands. So $1,500 we can make go a very long way," McMullen said. 

He said many people who are experiencing homelessness may not have had a choice, and people should try to avoid judgments or assumptions.

"The most important thing is just [to] understand there's a story behind everything."

People gathered at the University of Winnipeg RecPlex on Saturday for the event, which featured a panel for mental health and a yoga class. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Lighthouse volunteer Samantha Maclean helped organize the wellness day and participated in the yoga class.

She met Adams when she was working to help support him through the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. She eventually moved on from that position, but remained friends with Adams. He also met and became friends with her son, Liam, Maclean said.

"We were just so bonded at that point and had such a good relationship. We were seen more as family."

She eventually got a tattoo of three birds on her shoulder, in his honour. 

"The day before he passed ... we had dinner with him and he sang Three Little Birds from Bob Marley. That was the last time I saw him," she said. 

Lighthouse Mission volunteer Samantha Maclean and her son Liam fondly remember Leroy Adams. They say they often sing the song Three Little Birds by Bob Marley and the Wailers in his memory. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

Maclean said Adams used many services from homeless-serving organizations, including Lighthouse Mission, but he also had friends who would give him aid. 

"Sometimes he didn't have to go anywhere because people just came to him, which made a lot of sense if you knew him, because he was one of those personalities that he didn't even have to say anything. You were drawn to him."

Maclean hopes Saturday's event brings more awareness about struggles with mental health. She wants people to take the time to understand what someone may be going through.

Adams "was passionate about giving back to others and making sure that if he could help in any way, even with being on the streets, that he could give back."


Joanne Roberts joined CBC News in 2021 with the inaugural Pathways Program. She is the host of the short CBC series Being Asian: Competing Truths and the creator of the short series I Am, produced with CBC's Creator Network. Joanne is based in Winnipeg. Find her on socials @ReporterJoanne or email