Tag Archives: Ian Manheimer

Ian Manheimer And Our “Dopesick Nation”

The last time “06880” checked in with Ian Manheimer, he was channeling Robert F. Kennedy.

Ian Manheimer

Manheimer — a 2001 Staples grad, communications and English major at Tulane who works at Charity Buzz, raising funds for dozens of non-profits — has long been committed to social justice.

He founded RFK Young Leaders, a program that inspires young people to work on issues like farm workers’ rights.

Recently, Manheimer turned his focus to the opioid epidemic. He calls it “some of the most important work I’ve ever done.”

Through relatives in Florida, the activist learned of the $1 billion “drug rehabilitation industry.” Centered in Palm Beach County, it seems to involve “just about everyone,” Manheimer says.

For example, dentists own and run rehabilitation clinics. But, Manheimer explains, that’s a euphemism for a “fraudulent funnel that cycles addicts in and out.” The goal is to keep patients addicted, so clinic owners can “bilk the insurance industry.”

These are “serial scammers, following a long South Florida tradition. The industry is filled with gangsters. There’s a real criminal element there.”

Manheimer showed up at one rehabilitation center with a camera. The manager pulled out a gun, and chased him off the property.

Ian Manheimer prepares for a shot.

Manheimer’s brother Jaime worked in unscripted TV. One of his high school classmates explained more about the industry to them.

“Junkie hunters” — also known as “body brokers” — form the marketing arm. They look for “down and out people,” Manheimer says. The hunters offer Xboxes and other goods, to get drug users to enroll in a rehab program.

“They actually auction these guys off to the highest bidder,” Manheimer notes.

Manheimer and his brother developed a television show, exploring and explaining what was happening. They optioned it to a production company.

News media began focusing on the drug rehabilitation industry. Florida officials clamped down a bit.

So Manheimer shifted focus. His new show — “Dope Sick Nation” — looked at how recovering addicts could receive quality care.

Viceland — Vice’s cable network — bought 10 episodes. They air Wednesdays at 10 p.m. Rather than serving an expose, the show is human interest.

Recovering addicts Frankie Holmes and Allie Severino offer crisis intervention services to drug addicts, as they move into treatment.  They are featured in “Dopesick Nation.”

Each episode features 2 people — without insurance — in crisis. As they seek quality care, “Dopesick Nation” tells their stories.

Manheimer is passionate about the opioid crisis. The mortality rate is far higher than AIDS or breast cancer, he says. It’s bankrupting communities.

And — with the rising popularity of synthetic drugs like fentanyl — it’s getting worse.

“It’s the biggest public health crisis since the Spanish flu” exactly 100 years ago, he notes.

Like his hero RFK, Manheimer is drawn to big questions about humanity.

“This is a spiritual issue,” he says of the opioid epidemic.

“Why is it happening here? Why now? Why are millions of people attracted to a drug with such a high risk of overdosing and dying? Why are users clustered, and why are they predominantly where they are?”

He does not know the answer.

No one does.

But thanks to Ian Manheimer’s “Dopesick Nation,” viewers around the country are now motivated to think about them.

(Click here for all Viceland episodes.)

Westport Millennials Honor RFK’s Legacy

You’ve heard the stereotypes of millennials: They’re lazy. Entitled. Narcissistic. And completely oblivious to anything that happened any time before they were born.

If Ian Manheimer and Ben Erwin have their way, those stereotypes will be shattered. They’ll shake up the supposed millennial order — just the way one of their heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, did in other ways, when he was alive.

The Staples High School Class of 2001 graduates did not set out to emulate RFK. Yet they are certainly channeling the activist attorney general and senator, who was killed while running for president — and inspiring millions of young people — in 1968.

Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

But this is 2016. Ian and Ben admit that until a few years ago, they did not know much about Bobby Kennedy.

However, through their work at Charity Buzz — a website that raises funds for dozens of non-profits — they volunteered at the RFK gala.

The annual event — sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights — featured a Maysles brothers documentary on RFK.

The timing was fortuitous. Ian and Ben had been looking for a non-profit board to get involved with. Many “junior boards” — for people of their generation — were focused on cocktail parties. “There was not enough hands-on work, getting things done,” Ben says.

They were inspired by the video. But, Ian says, “We didn’t know a lot about Bobby Kennedy. As we learned more, we realized his vision is more important today than ever. If it’s not transmitted to younger people, it will be lost.”

The RFK Center did great grassroots work, Ian and Ben found. But the donor base was older. The Staples grads pitched an idea of focusing on youth.

Ian Manheimer leads an RFK Young Leaders work session.

Ian Manheimer (standing) leads an RFK Young Leaders work session.

“Bobby Kennedy traveled the globe. He believed in the spirit of young people,” Ian says. “We wanted to keep that spirit going.”

Center officials realized the value of that proposal. “We’re not just on the board now,” Ben says. “We’re more than the ‘RFK millennial organization.’ We don’t just raise money. We have a say in things. We’re an official program. It’s a great way to recruit young talent, and do good things.”

RFK Young Leaders logoThe group they founded is called RFK Young Leaders. Activism by his generation, Ian says, is “an itch that’s not being scratched. The chance to give people their first experience in human rights is huge.”

RFK Young Leaders focuses on local issues. Ian and Ben have grown passionate about farm workers’ rights in New York state.

Kennedy fought hard for farm workers. When Cesar Chavez ended his 25-day fast, he broke bread with the New York senator.

“The impression is that New York is a progressive state,” Ian says, echoing RFK’s passion.

“But conditions are really bad for farm workers. They’s excluded from all labor laws. They get no overtime pay. There are very limited restrictions on child labor. Employers don’t need to carry disability insurance, and there’s no monitoring for pesticides. Farm workers don’t even get days off. We were shocked. Farm workers are integral to everyone’s life.”

A group of RFK Young Leaders, examining conditions in the farm fields of New York state.

A group of RFK Young Leaders, examining conditions in the fields of New York state.

The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act has been stalled in Albany for 15 years.

RFK Young Leaders hired organizers, who conduct financial literacy, ESL and sex education training. They raise awareness of immigration and labor issues.

“It’s not easy,” Ian notes. “Farm workers have a lot to lose if they speak out.”

For the 1st couple of years, RFK Young Leaders was all Ian and Ben. They raised money, and  hosted events. Now they’ve recruited other young people to help, in areas like fundraising, sponsorship and digital marketing.

There are about 2,000 members in the the New York area. They’ve launched a  Washington, DC chapter, to focus on local issues there. More will come, in other cities.

Ben Erwin (center) and Ian Manheimer with Tim Cook. The Apple CEO met with RFK Young Leaders.

Ben Erwin (center) and Ian Manheimer with Tim Cook. The Apple CEO met with RFK Young Leaders.

“Awareness of Bobby Kennedy’s legacy is low” among his generation, Ian admits. “But he’s the guy for our generation. He foresaw the way mass communication technology could change the world, by uniting young people.”

Ian and Ben are inspired by their talks with Kerry Kennedy (the senator’s daughter, and president of RFK Human Rights). “She talks about spending Thanksgiving with her father and Martin Luther King. She tells us about her uncle Jack,” Ben says.

“People still want to be involved with the Kennedy name, for a variety of reasons,” Ian says. “That’s an introduction for some. But when they hear about what’s happening an hour north of New York City, they get drawn in.”

Just as Ian Manheimer and Ben Irwin have been. Now — like Bobby Kennedy, who died nearly 2 decades before they were born — they too are making a difference.

Talib Kweli and Ryan Leslie joined the 2014 RFK Young Leaders party:

Ian Manheimer’s Slice Of New York

Westport Pizzeria offers the best slice Ian Manheimer has eaten anywhere — outside of New York and New Haven.

He should know. He wrote the book on pizza.


The New York Pizza Project is a fabulously photographed, intriguingly produced journey into the world of New York City slices. The subtitle is “Exploring a city through its quintessential food.”

But this is no Zagat’s for ‘za.

Manheimer — a 2001 Staples grad, who majored in communications and English at Tulane, but (most importantly for this project) lived in New York until age 12 — and 4 friends have produced an homage to pizza. As well as to the men who make it.

During intense discussions over another important question — which pizzeria produced the best slice — Manheimer and his 20-something buddies decided to conduct hands-on (and mouths-full) research.

Ian Manheimer, hard at work.

Ian Manheimer, hard at work.

With their commitment to social justice — Manheimer, for example, founded RFK Young Leaders, a program of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights that concentrates on groups like farm workers — the quintet quickly realized that the New York pizza story involves many kinds of dough.

Dough, as in dollars too.

“This book honors the guys struggling to perpetuate a tradition we all love,” Manheimer says.

“It’s mostly 2nd-generation Italians and 1st-generation Mexicans. After that, it’s Greeks and Albanians. They face threats of gentrifying neighborhoods, immigration, and how to make money on a $2.50 product. No one had documented their stories.”

Now, Manheimer has.

He and his friends set up an Instagram account. New Yorkers responded with photos and comments about their favorite neighborhood pizzerias.

Eventually the authors narrowed their focus to 120 shops, in all 5 boroughs. Over 5 years they took tens of thousands of shots, and conducted hundreds of interviews. They focused on local shops — no chains. And no “gourmet pizzerias” (an oxymoron, am I right?)

In addition to "The Makers," there are 3 other sections in The New York Pizza Project: "The Eaters," "The Shop" and "The Block."

In addition to “The Makers,” there are 3 other sections in The New York Pizza Project: “The Eaters,” “The Shop” and “The Block.”

Manheimer learned plenty. For one thing, during the entire project he did not encounter one black pizza maker. Fewer than 5 were females.

The authors were also surprised at how hard it is to make a living. “Slice joints are everywhere — but none of them are new,” Manheimer says.

“The economics are so difficult. You have to be on your feet, and open, all the time.”

Kids today, Manheimer notes, grow up amid (and being marketed by) the likes of Domino’s, Little Caesars and Pizza Hut. Their pizzas are “inferior, and worse for you” than the ones produced by the sole proprietor around the corner, Manheimer says. But, he warns, neighborhood places risk losing the younger generation that sees the chains everywhere.

His favorite picture in The New York Pizza Project shows Johnny’s — a New York pizzeria since 1973 — standing next to an 8-year-old Papa John’s. “That symbolizes the new New York,” Manheimer says. “And it asks the question: What will be the New York of the future?”

Johnny's Pizza, and Papa John's: Which would you choose?

Johnny’s Pizza, and Papa John’s: Which would you choose?

The book — which was favorably mentioned in the New York Times — has struck a chord with New York natives who no longer live there. “We transport the New York pizza experience to wherever they are,” he says.

The other day, Manheimer met a soldier just back from Iraq. Before he saw his family, he stopped off at his favorite slice shop. “That memory kept him going through months at war,” Manheimer says.

The book is being sold at many of the pizzerias featured in it. It’s also in 30 retailers, including all the city’s major museums.

You can buy "The New York Pizza Project" at many New York pizza joints.

You can buy “The New York Pizza Project” at many New York pizza joints.

So is The Westport Pizza Project next?


(For more information, or to buy The New York Pizza Project, click here. It’s $29.95. For $5 more you get a map too.)






Making Things Measy

Choosing a digital camera is one thing.  Selecting a president is entirely different.

Or not.

Staples grads Ev Boyle and Ian Manheimer see a similarity:  The more information you have, the more manageable your choice.

Building on the success of Glassbooth — their wildly successful website that provided tons of personalized information on presidential candidates, from Barack Obama to Bob Barr (!) — the duo recently unveiled Measy.


Operating like Glassbooth, the new site collects, aggregates and analyzes thousands of product details, reviews and consumer needs, helping users decide not the best digital camera, DSLR, netbook or HDTV — but the best one for your particular needs.

Next up:  smartphones and laptops.

One difference:  Glassbooth was non-profit.  Ev and Ian hope Measy will make money.

“It’s all about making complex decisions simple,” Ev says about both sites.  With Measy, he explains, “you don’t have know anything about megapixels.  Just tell us, ‘I want to take pictures of my kid’s soccer games’ or ‘I want to use my computer for games.'”

What sets Measy apart from other product-info websites is the human touch.

“We don’t automate our information,” Ev says. “We draw from trusted sources like CNET and PC Magazine.  Then we research like crazy, and aggregate expert reviews.”

Measy’s target audience, he says, is “everybody.  Well, everybody who doesn’t feel like an expert, or who needs an unbiased source.”  His parents and their friends — particularly women — find it very helpful, he says.

“It’s hard to find unbiased, well-organized sources of information,” Ev says.  “People really dig it.”

Which is more than you can say about the name.  “It combines ‘me’ and ‘easy,'” Ev says.  “Some people really like it.  Some people hate it. 

“But it’s hard to find a name that’s short, and has a domain still available.”

Little in life is easy.  Happily for anyone looking for cameras, netbooks and HDTVs, using Measy is.

(Ev and Ian have enlisted a host of other Westporters to help launch Measy.  Among them:  Alex Jacobs, Alex Wasserman, Rich O’Reilly and Will Cimarosa.)