VERNON - Mark Blackman, a senior at Vernon Township High School, has been recognized as one of the top eight student volunteers in the state by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Blackman organized a teen volunteer program to teach computer skills to senior citizens and other adults in his community. He designed the program, worked with school administrators to obtain permission to use school equipment and wrote lesson plans. He then recruited and trained 13 youth volunteers to teach bi-weekly classes and work individually with more than 35 seniors and other technology-challenged adults. Blackman calls the program ACE (Awareness, Communication, Education) and designed it to fulfill its acronym. It recognizes the need for the "pre-computer" generation to be made aware of the fact that technology is continually being integrated into modern society; that communication, now more than ever, is being facilitated by the internet and e-mail, and that practical computer education is not reserved for the tech-savvy few. His initial goal was to develop a program that was not intimidating. "After the first few sessions," he said, "the program took on a life of its own, and has surpassed all of its original expectations." Nevertheless, he added, the program's main goal remains the same - to dissolve the all-too-common mindset that modern technology is "only suited to benefit the younger generation." A monthly newsletter functions as an extension to each previous lesson, providing insightful editorials, product reviews and other useful information. The articles and concepts are provided by the student teachers, however contributions and comments by attendees are always encouraged. An ACE Technology website is currently being developed and is expected to be up and running this spring. The website will also provide helpful advice and important updates to the program as necessary. The newest additions to the program include an Epson 3-in-one multifunction printer/scanner/copy machine, a USB flash drive, and a supply of glossy photo paper. Recent sessions have included the explanation of this equipment as well as practical applications of their uses including picture enlargement, photo and text editing. Soon, all previous and future lessons, handouts, pictures and student-acquired data will be stored in the USB memory for future reference and easy access. "What differentiates this program from the others in the past is that concepts pertaining to computer technology are taught at a comfortable level, taking into consideration the needs of the individual, while simultaneously guiding the group as a whole," explained Blackman. "Project ACE remains as intended: an informative, interactive and most importantly, fun program designed with the senior citizen in mind, which will continue indefinitely."