LAKEWOOD RANCH — As senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and its European counterpart, Lakewood Ranch resident Stuart Roth has fought for personal and religious liberties throughout the world for the last 30 years.
In the East County, his organization, The Center for Faith and Freedom, conducting business as Salt and Light Productions, has been serving area not-for-profits for roughly the last four years by producing award-winning promotional and other videos for them at no cost.
Last week, Roth was formally recognized for his humanitarian efforts — particularly those in his own community. On Oct. 15, Lakewood Ranch Community Fund officially named Roth as the sixth recipient of the C. John A. Clarke Humanitarian of the Year award. The award is given annually to individuals who have made outstanding, sustained and unselfish contributions to community enrichment and whose ideas and sacrifices exemplify the ideal of community service.
“He works nonstop helping a broad array (of organizations),” Lakewood Ranch Community Fund member Bob Bortowski said. “He’s done a lot for the local charities.”
Since Roth officially opened the Center for Faith and Freedom in Lakewood Ranch in 2007, the organization has created more than 50 promotional videos for non-profits throughout the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Of the 13 non-profits awarded grants at the ceremony last week, Roth’s organization had served more than half.
“I feel like the award and what we do here is a match, but we’re just doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Roth said. “I feel like I am in this position because God has blessed me. Yes, I’ve worked hard, but there are people who have worked hard (and life doesn’t get easier).”
Roth started the Center for Faith and Freedom originally as Sonlight Broadcasting Systems Inc. in 1989 when he acquired a broadcasting station in Mobile, Ala. He implemented a 24-hour format with family friendly, faith-based programming.
Roth oversaw the network’s expansion over the next decade, even hosting his own syndicated television program. By 1997, Sonlight owned and operated five full-power television stations and five low-power stations.
Then in 1997, Sonlight sold its broadcast license to another television network. At that time, Roth also changed the company’s name to the Center for Faith and Freedom to better reflect its new direction.
Wanting to return to Florida (where he had attended college), Roth relocated the organization’s headquarters to Sarasota, purchasing a site in the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park in 2001. He moved to the area in 2002 but held off on construction for the Center of Faith and Freedom as he waited to sell Sonlight’s headquarters during a recession.
Roth decided to construct the largest building he could on his lot, planning to donate extra space for other not-for-profits to use. Construction on the new facility began in April 2005 and finished just more than a year later.
“I built the whole complex (in mind) for a not-for-profit center,” Roth said, noting Shelter Box USA and Just for Girls occupy the building. “I try to make the building as available as I can without overextending it or interfering with what we do.”
The Center for Faith and Freedom’s space includes three video editing suites, a screening room, offices, meeting spaces and even a cozy room intended only for brainstorming, among others.
“People are surprised when they come here,” Roth said. “One of the purposes of this organization … is to help inspire and encourage other non profits and the individuals running them and (to build) relationships.”
Even still, Roth’s outlook may be even better evidenced by how the Center is funded. Roth used the money from the sale of his former headquarters building to create the $7.5 million endowment that funds the Center of Faith and Freedom’s day-to-day operations. The idea, he said, is that the organization does not have to compete against the charities it serves for funding dollars.
Roth said he believes people have obligation to share their skills, talents and resources to help others.
“Everybody’s got different gifts and it’s important for people to share them,” Roth said. “That’s really what we do here. I feel so blessed to have these opportunities.”
Although the non-profits for which Salt and Light Productions work pay nothing for the organization’s services, Roth said his mission is to provide top-quality work, which has garnered numerous Emmy and Telly awards.
But most of all, Roth said he loves helping organizations tackle issues that many people won’t dare touch.
“I get to be a small part of and work with a lot of organizations that are dealing with some of society’s most pressing issues,” Roth said. “This is the gravy in my life. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund on Oct. 15 doled out $55,000 to 13 local charitable organizations.
• B.D. Gullett Elementary — $3,280 (teacher and guidance counselor and an after-school tutoring program)
• Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast —$4,000 (mentoring 10 at-risk students in Decision to Win Dropout Program at Lakewood Ranch High School)
• Our Mother’s House/Catholic Charities — $2,500 (infant/toddler mental health program)
• Easter Seals of Southwest Florida — $4,000 (Project Rainbow respite care)
• Family Network on Disabilities of Manatee/Sarasota — $2,500 (respite care for families with a child with a disability or special need)
• Family Resources — $2,945 (washer/dryer for Safe Place2B Runaway and Homeless Youth Crisis Center)
• Foundation for Dreams — $2,500 (Dream Oaks Camp scholarships)
• Manasota BUDS — $2,600 (35 parent kits)
• Manasota SOLVE — $2,376 (25 infant car seats)
• Manatee Children’s Services — $3,019 (18 beds for abused children)
• Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee — $4,280 (“Babies Can’t Wait” collection drive)
• Cancer Support Community — $6,000 (counselor for a cancer support group)
• Lakewood Ranch YMCA — $15,000 (Teen Outreach Program)