One thing we do as journalists is tell the stories of troubled people. It's only natural some listeners want to help.

NPR's Libby Lewis found that out this week in a story about an Iowa pastor and his student-loan debt that won't be paid off until 2029. Here is our Reporter's Notebook.

LIBBY LEWIS: Some listeners said they thought Dan Lozer was a deadbeat in a pastor's job, but to Kat Lomantilla(ph), Dan Lozer came across more like George Bailey in the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Maybe that's because George Bailey's name came up when I visited Lozer in Sioux City, Iowa. It was when Lozer was telling me there was a time he thought about suicide. He was tapping the table out of nerves.

Pastor DAN LOZER (Mayflower Congregational United Church of God, Sioux City, Iowa): Well, do you remember that scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" when he says you're worth more dead than alive? It's like - I'd be out of debt.

LEWIS: Dear Ms. Lewis, Lomantilla wrote, my husband just found $50 in an old box as he was cleaning out the garage last Saturday, and I would like to be the first contributor to Dollars for Dan. Could I send it to NPR or the Education Department?

This happens a lot. NPR's Listener Services says it happens hundreds of times a year. For the listeners who wrote about Dan Lozer, I forwarded their e-mails to him. He's encouraged them to donate instead to young students just starting out — to help them avoid what happened to him.

Personally, I feel pulled a little when listeners asked to donate. I wondered, did the larger story get upstaged in the drama of one life? Are we doing the right thing by highlighting one person or one family to shed light on something bigger? After all, there are plenty of people in the situation Dan Lozer is in. But I also think maybe it's a good sign.

Just last month, my colleague, Allison Keyes, wrote about the Martin household. Before Katrina, they lived in New Orleans. Now, they live in Jackson, Mississippi. The Martins are raising 14 grandchildren in a house with one bathroom.

Janice Anderson(ph) wrote Allison to ask if she could donate to the Martins. She wrote: It's so wonderful to hear of people with such integrity and character. I would love to help this amazing set of grandparents.

It's as though she wanted to give something back for the gift of hearing about the Martins. You may think this sounds corny, but I think it's a gift that keeps coming around. I called Kat Lomantilla out in Anchorage, Alaska, to ask if I could write about her letter. She started telling me about her son, who just got back from Iraq, and that got me thinking about another story.

SIMON: NPR's Libby Lewis. You can hear her story on Pastor Lozer on our Web site,

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