A homeless woman reminded her of her mom. She sold everything to help.

What would you do if you had five years to live? One year? A month?

That’s the question Houston-based Isha Desselle asked herself in 1986 after returning from a trip to India, where she saw too many homeless people to count.

One of them spent her nights rolled up “in a little bag,” and Desselle said she looked like her mother. The thought brought her to tears.

“My mother was tough, in a very soft way,” Desselle recalls. “She built our house in Trinidad, mixing water, sand, and stone. She taught us everything, especially charity. She’s the one who instilled that in our life. On the weekends, we would go to the market, and she would feed the beggars.”

When she returned home, she decided to take a hard look at herself and ask “What do I want to do with my life? What do I want to do with me?”

It’s a question many of us have asked: You may be thinking it right now as you sit and read this. What do you want to do with your life?

Desselle knew she wanted to help others. The choice she made was extraordinary. After grappling with how she could do the most good, she sold her house and all of her belongings, giving her enough money for a fresh start. But it wasn’t for her.

“I sold my home and everything I had,” Desselle says, “put a down payment on a rundown apartment complex. It was like this is it. It just felt right.”

Her goal? To turn the complex into a safe place for elderly people without a home. But though her intentions were good, Desselle says she was stymied at every turn. “I went to United Way,” she remembers, “and they told me I wouldn’t make it because I didn’t have the experience; I didn’t have the education.”

The rejection didn’t make Desselle weaker. It fueled her resolve. No one was going to tell her what she could or couldn’t do.

So she moved into the apartment complex herself and began to help those who were already living there. When they didn’t have food, Desselle walked to butcher shops and asked for bones. She went to produce markets and asked for vegetables. “We had that every day,” she says.

And then the people came. Soon the elderly homeless residents of Desselle’s neighborhood started coming for assistance. Sometimes she’d have up to 40 people in her tiny kitchen. “And everyone helped out,” she says. Desselle began feeding more than 200 homeless people a day.