August 29th marks the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and cities along the Gulf Coast. Today, Caroline Isemann reflects on how Hurricane Katrina impacted her life and community both 10 years ago and today.

As a New Orleans native, it’s difficult to even begin attempting to tackle how an event like Hurricane Katrina has shaped my life, the lives of those around me, and the place I call home. I will never forget talking about evacuating with my family the Friday prior to the storm, thinking of it as a mere hassle. We’d evacuated plenty of times before and come home to a few shutters on the ground, but nothing of much significance. Little did I know what we would be facing in a few short days.

I was a senior in college that year, with big decisions to make about my future. While there were many factors that led to my decision to leave Louisiana to attend graduate school in Georgia, I’d be foolish to think that the chaos surrounding the storm didn’t play a major role in that decision.

Often I think about how different my life would be today had it not been for Katrina. Where would I be? What would I be doing? Despite how horrific of an event Hurricane Katrina was, I know that some of the blessings in my life have come because of the course my life took after living through it. I grew personally, intellectually, and spiritually, and I am stronger today because of it.

The same can be said of the city of Baton Rouge, my new home. The Capital City’s population has grown nearly 17% since 2005, while the number of business establishments has grown by more than 1,000 – a 6% increase. The number of jobs has also increased by 16% — nearly twice the national average.

Economists say that Baton Rouge was already headed for this trajectory prior to Hurricane Katrina. While I won’t argue with them, I would say a lot of the growth that occurred here cannot be measured with numbers and percentages. The way that people from Baton Rouge were able to come together to assist evacuees from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities and welcome them with open arms brought a great deal of pride to residents here. The unity that was forged among races, economic classes, and party lines said a lot about this city and the people living here. Baton Rouge’s growth was not just in economic development, but also in the city’s heart and generosity.

I may live in Baton Rouge now, but I still consider myself a NOLA girl. My “mom and dem” still live there, and it’s where my heart belongs. But I am a different person than I was 10 years ago, and Baton Rouge is a different city that it was a decade in the past. Both of us have been part of Katrina’s silver linings, and I am thankful that we both came out of such a tragic event better, stronger, and thriving.