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Emma, Juana, and Minerva from Unlimited Potential stand alongside a Waymo One ride-hailing vehicle

Waymo and Unlimited Potential Plant Seeds of Collaboration in Phoenix

Over more than three decades of her career, Emma Viera’s public health work has spanned international, state, and local levels, from the Peace Corps in Africa to a long tenure at the Arizona Department of Health. 

Emma Viera, Executive Director of Unlimited Potential

Now, as the executive director of the Phoenix nonprofit Unlimited Potential, Emma works at the level of individual city blocks, where community health promoters attend pollinator talks and children pull carrots from a Healing Garden

“We use education and health promoters to make a change and improve the health of the individual, the family and the community,” Emma, who holds a PhD in health administration, explained in Spanish. “We have the opportunity to work on prevention and get to the real cause of what the health problems are.”

Each year, Unlimited Potential trains more than 200 community health promotores – all of whom are volunteers – in the areas of nutrition, oral health, behavioral health, and environmental awareness so they can become health influencers within their social networks. In this way, the organization is able to reach over 6,000 families in Phoenix, mainly within the diverse population of South Phoenix..

The goal is to expand access to everything proven to lead to better health outcomes, such as healthy food, education, economic opportunity, a healthy environment, and even more trees. 

A "Grow Local Tempe" workshop, hosted with Unlimited Potential at the Escalante Community Center

“What we as an organization work on is focusing on those social determinants of health,” explained Emma, adding that one crucial determinant of health is access to safe, reliable transportation. 

“Transportation is one of the most prevalent determinants of health, because of the fact that it's that access to medical care, it's access to a store,” Emma explained, adding that many people in Phoenix live more than one or two miles from a food store.

“If you don't have a car, you can't get to places like your appointments or to take classes at Unlimited Potential either,” said Juana Silva, a community health worker with Unlimited Potential. “When Unlimited Potential offers training or classes, many say, ‘I can't go because I don't have transportation.’’’

Juana and Minerva opening the door to a Waymo One autonomous ride-hailing vehicle

Waymo, which operates the Waymo One ride-hailing service in Metro Phoenix, is working together with Unlimited Potential to explore how autonomous driving technology could help serve their communities. Unlimited Potential was specifically interested in exploring mobility options to help its community members get from point A to point B, door to door, in the sweltering, and sometimes life-threatening, Phoenix summer heat.

“We've been doing a lot of work with the city of Phoenix, going neighborhood by neighborhood, and doing workshops on how heat affects us, transportation, and exploring solutions,” Emma said.

Emma said she was happy to learn that Waymo wanted to hear from the community about what challenges it is facing and how autonomous driving could help. 

“One of the reasons why I'm super fascinated to be working with Waymo is because Waymo is focused on listening to the community,” Emma shared.

One of the reasons why I'm super fascinated to be working with Waymo is because Waymo is focused on listening to the community.
Emma Viera, Executive Director of Unlimited Potential

Waymo has been working to build community partnerships with nonprofits and service organizations in every community where it operates, and at the national level. In order to make its services accessible to diverse communities, Waymo has made the Waymo One app, which riders use to request and utilize Waymo vehicles, as well as key in-car messages, available in Spanish, English, and Chinese.

One day in November, Juana and Minerva Velarde, another community health worker with Unlimited Potential, took a ride in a Waymo vehicle in South Phoenix. 

Juana and Minerva in the backseat of a fully autonomous Waymo One ride-hailing vehicle

“I was relaxed because it gave me the confidence that I was going to arrive safely to the place where I was going,” Juana recalled

Waymo’s autonomous driving technology is designed to be constantly vigilant, see all around with its 360-degree vision system, obey road rules like speed limits, and drive with the safety of other road users like cyclists and pedestrians in mind.

During the ride, Juana and Minerva chatted in Spanish about how Waymo’s service could help community members who no longer drive or provide rides to young women traveling alone after dark.

“At the beginning I was like, ‘What's going to happen?,’ but along the way, we were talking and I even relaxed,” Minerva said. “I was able to enjoy the trip.”

Emma said she’s hopeful that autonomous driving can help connect people with important destinations around Phoenix, if they are open to it.

“There's definitely a group of people within the community that I work in, that I spend 24 hours a day with, that would benefit from the services,” Emma said. “There is no single solution for the problems we have, but it’s about how we can reach solutions together. Waymo also does the same thing: it listens to the community and knows that it is one of many solutions to the very big problems that we have.”

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