Lakewood Ranch Herald

Helping fellow man is key to Lakewood Ranch's Center for Faith and Freedom

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- "Salt & Light Productions is the gravy of my life," said Stuart Roth, sitting in his expansive office on a recent Friday afternoon, where several wall-mounted television stations were broadcasting 24-hour news, feeding Roth's curiosity as a self-proclaimed "news junkie."

Roth is considered by many to be the best-kept secret in Lakewood Ranch.

He is the founder and president of the Center for Faith and Freedom, a non-denominational faith-based organization based in Lakewood Ranch, the philanthropic message of which is to help other nonprofits -- locally, nationally and even internationally -- deliver messages of hope to individuals and families that find themselves in life's most difficult situations.

Roth, the recipient of the C. John A. Clarke Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2010 by the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund, has invested much time, energy and resources since 1989, when the center was founded, to help society's less fortunate and to serve as the "salt" and "light" of biblical beliefs of morality and discipleship, metaphors referred to in the Gospel according to Matthew.

What makes the Center for Faith and Freedom a "joy," Roth says, is Salt & Light Productions, an extension of the organization housed in the Center's headquarters on Merchant Way, which helps non-profits produce cutting-edge, documentaries, customized videos for broadcast television, some which are licensed, and timely public service announcements that have become syndicated. The service is offered for free or at a nominal charge and serves to help the charities with fundraising, promotional awareness and volunteer recruitment.

Through the years, many Salt & Light Production videos have been recognized with awards from the national multimedia industry.

"We treat everybody like kings in this community, and now the great thing about what we're doing in 2015 is we can produce something all over the world. My vision is always bigger," said Roth.

The center's state-of-the-art production complex, featuring several editing suites, studios and an education and conference area, also is home to Salt & Light Radio, a weekly radio program broadcast every Saturday at noon on WSRQ AM/FM Radio in Sarasota, which Roth hosts, along with his partner in life, Stephanie Hefner, a licensed mental health counselor who heads the Center for Counseling and Mediation Services in Bradenton.

Roth said the radio element of the Center is complimentary to the video.

"I've met so many interesting people and worked on so many different issues that I felt it was time to highlight them in a radio broadcast. It's lots of fun, well-produced and we're starting to get international guests as well, since they're just a phone call away," he said.

Roth's passion and enthusiasm are echoed by two loyal employees, Patty Dodson, office manager, and Don Gangnagel, senior producer and recipient of two Emmy Awards.

"Everyone has to understand our mission. It's a calling and not just a job," Roth said of Dodson and Gangnagel, who carefully help him keep his commitments.

"This is the best job because you have a real purpose," said Gangnagel who oversees the editing studios. "We try to understand what the non-profits want to accomplish and who their audience is. Then we try and break down the myths. I think what we do best is put a human face on people who are dealing with challenging issues every day of their lives."

Gangnagel added that coming to work at the Center for Faith and Freedom is an excellent environment because of Roth's empathy and work ethic. "Stuart doesn't want them to feel like they're getting leftovers just because they're a nonprofit."

Charitable organizations that have benefitted from Salt & Light Productions seem to agree. The Sarasota Family YMCA engaged S&LP to produce several videos, which promoted the organization's Safe Children Coalition and the Schoolhouse Link program through a piece on homelessness which featured several Schoolhouse Link child beneficiaries.

"Stuart is extremely generous and he helped raise awareness for us in a very indepth way," said Jennifer Grondahl, president of the YMCA Foundation of Sarasota. "He invests himself in it and that's why the videos turn out the way they do and it has the same trickle down with Patty and Don," she said.

"The product is truly top notch. I would never go anywhere else," said non-profit recipient Bunny Coelingh, community awareness coordinator for Mental Health Community Centers Inc. in Sarasota, an organization that has helped adults with mental illness and disabling emotional problems for more than 20 years. "Don has a way of getting stuff out of people that is truly amazing and warm. Not everybody gets mental health but he has such sensitivity that he knows exactly where to go."

All the planning, effort and time that goes into the video and radio produced at the Center for Faith and Freedom is the result of a "long journey of faith," as Roth likes to describe it, and his love of multi-tasking.

An accomplished international lawyer who represents constitutional and human rights cases for the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., whose chief counsel Jay Sekulow was Roth's former law school roommate, Roth is able to support his charitable operation through an endowment which he established after he sold several faith-based television stations called Sonlight Broadcasting Systems in the South in 1997.

"The licenses were valuable and out of that, I built an endowment. I'm able to do what I do without asking for money, fundraising or hosting galas," explained Roth.

A portfolio of all Salt & Light broadcast projects, as well as recent episodes of Salt & Light Radio are available at

Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.