The HUB Center by Donna Kelly

Your Polk County HUB
By Donna Kelly

What does an enterprising businesswoman with a heart for the community do with an empty building? If you’re Chris Hazelwood you put it to work for non-profit organizations needing space and visibility to help the people they serve.

Hazelwood, a banker-turned-florist transformed her flower shop building into The HUB, a non-profit incubator offering various size work spaces for non-profits at 220 W. Central Ave. in Winter Haven.

A non-profit incubator is an organization that cultivates the development of a new non-profit organization by providing resources – including office space, networking opportunities, and management assistance – and sometimes funding.

“The location is prime – on Central Avenue with a parking lot next door and all of these restaurants around,” says Hazelwood. “It’s ideal for someone to get a non-profit out of their house. I foresee it getting filled up fast.”

A private office, including use of a kitchen and parking lot, is available for $499 while a desk with a phone can be rented by the month for $250 or by the week for $99. A community space and boardroom are also available for a donation.

Hazelwood designed the 3,300 square foot space to encourage growth with green hues, a wood-look floor, and a “giving tree” mural on the wall to honor those who donate to the effort. She visualizes organizations using it for a home base or event space, or both, if needed.

“My dream is to fill up the HUB, and every night have something going on i.e.; yoga, meetings, support, classes, etc. I want to have a countywide calendar of events for all non-profits,” she says.

Bob Gernert, executive director of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, says an incubator gives a non-profit an increased chance for success.

“The concept of sharing overhead costs in a centralized setting gives not-for-profit organizations a wonderful opportunity to get off on the right foot with less capital outlay and monthly overhead,” Gernert says. “This is crucial when dependent on grants and donors.”

Within weeks of its July opening, The HUB already had several organizations using the space, including Arts Ensemble Education Foundation and Healing Arts Center and The United Way of Central Florida.

Arts Ensemble, an arts incubator located in Eloise, uses the space for various healing arts workshops, including paint along sessions, poetry writing classes, and dramatic reading presentations. According to Executive Director Jane Waters Thomas, The HUB offers Arts Ensemble patrons convenience and atmosphere.

“The location of The HUB is very beneficial because many of our clients cannot utilize public transportation to gain access to our main gallery/studio. The HUB is also easy to locate,” says Waters Thomas. “Most importantly, the space and energy of this facility is as beautiful as the concept of providing resources for nonprofit organizations in this day and this time. The building itself lends way to healing just by walking in the doors.”

In August, The United Way of Central Florida began using desk space at The HUB in addition to its Highland City and Avon Park offices.

“A Winter Haven location strengthens our ability to serve all of East Polk County,” says Executive Director Terry Worthington.

The HUB offers a less costly alternative to renting an entire office building. Like Waters Thomas, Worthington appreciates the safe and convenient location as well as the welcoming atmosphere. But he also sees advantages to the synergy created when non-profit organizations work from the same space.

“Programs located together gain a clearer understanding and respect for services provided. This encourages collaborations that often lead to improved delivery of services,” Worthington says.

Although United Way and Arts Ensemble are not fledgling organizations, Worthington and Waters Thomas agree that The HUB will strengthen their agencies while allowing others to develop.

“Exposure and access to services through The HUB could enhance service delivery for a small, lesser known organization,” says Worthington. “Most non-profits lack marketing resources, so a visible location like The HUB would be an asset.”

Waters Thomas believes this type of support for non-profits has been needed in Polk County for years.

“A common ground and professional space that offers nonprofit groups, especially those that could never afford a meeting environment as nice as this, a place to conduct business or host workshops without the overhead associated is invaluable,” she says.

According to Waters Thomas, business overhead is the primary reason nonprofit groups can’t grow or expand their services.

“Your Polk County HUB takes the risk out of serving others,” she says.

Hazelwood’s journey to The HUB has been filled with tribulations turned to triumphs.

In a successful career change during 2000, Hazelwood purchased Lasater Flowers, a family business founded in 1958. She moved the business downtown and it quickly became the “go-to” florist for community leaders, resulting in recognition from the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce and the East Polk Committee of 100 in 2009.

Hazelwood’s life was thrown off kilter in February 2008 when she was diagnosed with cancer. By 2010, her son and daughter-in-law, Chad and Keira Lennox, had become an integral part of the shop. In 2012, they discontinued the gift items and moved Lasater Flowers over a block to 253 Ave A S.W.

This left Hazelwood with an empty but highly visible, easily accessible building. Her volunteer work with Meals on Wheels and the American Cancer Society, including a large pampering event held each year for cancer patients, made her well aware of the challenges in running a non-profit. She funneled her knowledge, experience, and real estate into a viable community service.

“I held a pampering event here and I thought, ‘Why just cancer?’ Our minds just kept working,” she says.

She tossed the idea around with friends, family, and business leaders with mixed reactions. But her husband, Hap Hazelwood, the chief financial officer for Winter Haven’s 6/10 Corporation, signed on with gusto and serves as The HUBS’s secretary/treasurer.

“I felt a bit like Noah building the Ark. Why am I doing this?” Chris Hazelwood says. “People were real skeptical but now they’re in and saying, ‘What a cool idea!’”

With the idea catching on and drawing interest from organizations based in other areas of the county, many eyes will be watching to see how quickly The HUB fills to capacity.

“The Hazelwoods have been very creative in their thought process. This innovative concept offers our area not-for-profits an alternative to the expense of creating a free-standing location,” says Gernert. “Opportunity is knocking … it will be interesting to see who answers the door.”

For more information about The HUB, contact Chris Hazelwood at 863-875-7911 or visit