Faith anchors local video enterprise

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Homelessness, gang activity, mental illness, teen pregnancy, Alzheimer’s disease, world hunger and abortion.

While some in Manatee County might give money or time to fight some of these ills, 55-year-old Stuart Roth — a lawyer, filmmaker and social activist — says he wants to make a difference in every one.

Roth is the president, chief executive officer and chairman of Center for Faith and Feedom, a Lakewood Ranch not-for-profit that creates and produces DVDs, public service announcements and other multimedia items at no charge for other nonprofit organizations that help the needy.

The examples listed above are actually film projects on Roth’s “to do” list.

Although Roth is footing the bill for his operation, employees say it’s anything but a shoestring operation.

“He lives his passion,” said senior producer Don Gangnagel, who works for Roth’s Salt & Light Productions. “Usually, in an operation like this, people are lukewarm about taking on really ambitious projects. Stuart is all in.”

Artistry and creativity are held at a high level, despite cost, Gangnagel said.

His video projects have won 17 Telly Awards and one Emmy for outstanding video production as determined by judges in his industry.

“This a great place to work if you are artistic,” Gangnagel said. “Usually, a person like me would be held back by budget constraints. Here, if I have an idea, most times Stuart just says, ‘Go.’”

“If I’m going to run a food kitchen, I’m cooking ribeyes,” Roth said in explaining his philosophy.

“He could have been anything he wanted to be,” Roth’s mother, Barbara, said by phone from Connecticut where, at 81, she still sells real estate. “He just wants to help people with his life. I’m very proud of him.”

In 1997, Roth sold 10 faith-based television stations in Mobile, Ala., and Chattanooga and Memphis, Tenn.

The income from the sale, which supports his entire operation, now stands at roughly $7 million, depleted somewhat by the recent slumping of the U.S. stock market, Roth added.

This is the fourth year Roth’s company has been in Lakewood Ranch and, in the first three years, the company produced 50 DVDs.

Among clients are Manasota Buds, Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center, Hope Seeds, Christian Fellowship Mission, Agape Flights, Easter Seals of Southwest Florida, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society of Manatee County, The Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch, Just for Girls, Family Partnership Center, Foundation for Dreams and many others.

A client has to strike Roth’s heart to be accepted.

“They have to be helping the disadvantaged,” Roth said.

On top of his work at the center, Roth is also a constitutional lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based practice that focuses on protecting religious freedom in the courtroom.

Roth also donates office space at no charge to Shelter Box USA and Just for Girls.

The name Center for Faith and Freedom naturally sprang from Roth’s two passions, religious freedom and faith in God.

Roth said his faith — he is a Jew who converted to Christianity — is the bedrock of his existence and absolutely nothing can shake it.

If it was going to shake on one day, perhaps July 1, 2009, would have been the day.

Roth pulled down his street in the Portmarnock section of Lakewood Ranch Country Club that day when he saw emergency vehicles flying by.

“I thought someone had had a heart attack,” Roth said.

Before he reached his 5,000-square-foot custom built home, a neighbor waved him over.

“Stuart, your house is on fire, you better get down there,” she said.

The house, which had sustained a direct lightning strike, was deemed a total loss.

Roth said he believes everything happens for a reason.

You have to trust that God has a plan for absolutely everything, Roth said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.