Of all the trends concerning America's young people, one that has come to light recently is particularly gratifying. The New York Times reported this week that the number of college students who choose to do humanitarian service during spring break is on the rise.

Compare this with the more publicized version of spring break, where students spend the week drinking, engaging in promiscuity and drowning in a whirlpool of self-indulgence and narcissism. That's the kind of spring break that leads to regret and a lack of fulfillment or even worse. Its consequences are almost always negative. A service trip, on the other hand, builds self-esteem and expands a person's character and soul.

The heartening thing is that so many students are understanding on their own, despite the images in popular media, how much more enjoyable it is to spend time willingly helping others.

The Times estimates that about 30,000 students this year have elected to travel around the world, sometimes to Third World countries, and to perform tasks as varied as constructing homes, teaching children, cooking meals for people who are homeless or landscaping parks. That is double the number that did so five years ago. Coalitions have formed to help organize and direct the work. In some cases, the students live and work in areas so primitive they are forced to find fun with little more than hard work and their own camaraderie. Almost invariably they succeed, and they come home with a feeling of satisfaction, as well.

And, often, these trips cost quite a bit. Some students paid more than $1,200 to travel to Honduras and hand out shoes.

It is, as one girl described it, "a guilt-free spring break." But it is more that that. It is character-building, and it is evidence of a breed of young people who have learned that success in life is measured more by what one leaves behind than by what one takes.

Of course, this trend toward voluntarism still doesn't compare with the number of students who choose to be self-indulgent during spring break. As merchants and residents in St. George and other popular warm-weather sites can attest, these students often cause property damage and scare away more mature tourists. How nice it is to know that a growing army of young people would rather spend their time helping others and making the world better. They give everyone else a reason to hope for the future.