WARREN - Claire Gysegem grew up with a vision of her hometown as a proud community of hardworking people.
But doing a school documentary about increasing blight here has opened her eyes to grittier parts of the city than she had previously known, as well as the potential of the city imploding upon itself from the decay of some of its housing stock if drastic actions are not taken soon.
Yet, even with this new knowledge, Gysegem, a Howland High School graduate, is optimistic about the hard work of the city's residents and is optimistic about the region's future.
Gysegem, a senior television broadcast major at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, wants to call attention to different issues with her film work.
"Eliminating abandoned housing is something I feel strongly about," Gysegem, 21, said. "We must find a way to reduce the number.
"It is not a problem happening to just any one area," she said. "While there certainly is more of it on (Warren's) southwest side, we are seeing more empty houses in other parts of the city."
Her project is the outcome of a 70-hour film requirement.
The 40-minute result, titled, "Abandoned," will be shown to the public this month for free. A gallery exhibition being sponsored by Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership will accompany it.
"My goal in doing this was to show that Warren is a strong city with great potential," she said. "We are much more than what is portrayed."
If you go
WHAT: "Abandoned," a 40-minute film created by Howland native Claire Gysegem about Warren's blight problems, will be shown.
WHEN: 7 p.m. June 18
WHERE: Warren YWCA, 375 N. Park Ave., Warren
ALSO: An accompanying gallery exhibition will open at 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Free and open to the public
She said she spoke to numerous residents, neighborhood and community activists and some city leaders.
Gysegem did much of the film work, as well as wrote and narrated the script.
"It was more than I expected to do," she said.
Gysegem received help from fellow Point Park student John Bursick.
Seeing the passion of the people who are fighting to make their neighborhoods cleaner and safer has impassioned Gysegem, whose father, Thomas P. Gysegem, was a former prosecutor and is now a Warren Municipal Court judge.
"There are so many reasons why this is happening," she said. "There are so many stories to be told. There are people who lost their jobs, have high medical costs and generally have run into a streak of bad luck."
However, she added, one of the main factors is the fact that Warren is a shrinking city.
"I interviewed this man who saw his childhood home empty and abandoned,'' she said.
Rhonda Bennett, a member of the Southwest Neighborhood Association, was one of the community leaders interviewed for this project.
"I think the film will give viewers a different view of blight and its impact on individuals and on neighborhoods," Bennett said. "It will put a real face on it by showing the impact on people."
Bennett suggests that people know that there is blight in Warren and throughout Ohio but often distance themselves from it.
"Viewers will see how it affects people - hardworking people - who believe they are doing everything right and still lose their homes," she said. "Abandoned homes ruin neighborhoods and reduce property values. This is in your face."
The hope is it will move people to action.
"We really need to make a plan and to sacrifice," Gysegem said. "I'm impressed because I've seen residents band together to do what they could to stop the issue of blight from getting worse," she said. "People are doing this on their own time and with their own money. Their only goal is to make their neighborhoods and then their community better."