For 18-year-old Darah Gerou, it’s a matter of pride.

Gerou, who uses a wheelchair, has worked for months to make her senior project at Poway High School the most awesome one in her class.

So determined is she to prove to classmates – and perhaps herself – that her cerebral palsy will never slow her down, Gerou doggedly built a major fundraising program that culminates tomorrow at the Country Health and Home Street Fair in Poway. She expects to raise more than $8,000 for charity.

“She decided that if she had to have a senior project, she was going to . . . have the best senior project of all,” said her mother, Susan Miles.

Gerou’s smile widened as big as a sunrise at her mother’s praise.

Gerou decided to go for the big score, she said, when she heard Poway’s principal, Scott Fisher, talk about senior projects.

“Mr. Fisher said it had to be something you feel passionate about. It had to be the kind of thing you wanted to get up early on Saturday morning to do,” Gerou said.

What’s her passion? Animals. She had raised prize 4-H goats, kept a horse and now has five dogs, all named for U.S. presidents and their first ladies – including her beloved basset hound, Abraham Lincoln.

Waddling Abe inspired her to call Jerri Caswell, who runs the San Diego chapter of Basset Hound Rescue, a nonprofit group. For 16 years Caswell’s organization has been nursing back to health more than 1,000 abandoned and abused hounds, and offering them for adoption to homes that meet the group’s strict standards.

Caswell told Gerou about the problems bassets face: Many are in-bred by greedy breeders or callous dog owners who dump their pets when they move or go on vacation.

The sad stories she heard got Gerou moving. For the past school year, she called and wrote more than 120 local businesses soliciting donations. She then organized their contributions into gift baskets, which she has been raffling off.

More than 80 percent of the businesses she contacted agreed to contribute.

“It’s surprising how willing everybody was to give,” she said. “I’ve lived here 10 years and I didn’t know some of these businesses existed. Now I know all these people and have built relationships with the business community. Isn’t that what it was supposed to be about, a learning experience?”

Her family helped her build a Web site to further market her fundraiser which features the hundreds of prizes available.

Donor prizes include a $100 dinner coupon for the restaurant Rainwater’s on Kettner in downtown San Diego, goodies from Bon Bon Bakery & Chocolates in the Bernardo Winery and a year’s worth of free dog food worth $500 from Casey’s Petropolis.

When she called the Poway Chamber of Commerce to talk to them about what she was doing, the group gave her a booth, she said, knowing that it’s hard for business organizations to turn down dog-loving teenagers.