FAIRLAWN: Jessica Portis looked into a floor-length mirror, her excited grin revealing childhood braces. An elegant lady in a strapless violet gown smiled back.

“I’ve been waiting to go to prom my whole life,” the 18-year Buchtel High School senior said. “I’ve always dreamed about it. When I was young, I was always looking at prom dresses. When I get bored, I go look at prom dresses. I always said I was going to do the princess thing.”

But Jessica is a full-time student who lives with a 24-year-old aunt and two 21-year-old cousins. While she’s certain her extended family would have done everything they could to make her dream night come true, she’s relieved she no longer has to ask.

Jessica was among nearly 60 Akron seniors treated to the third annual “I PROMise Makeover,” an event founded by Savannah James and organized by the LeBron James Family Foundation.

“I’m so glad I was chosen. If I would have found my ‘it’ dress and it was a dress I really loved, my family would have worked it out,” Jessica said. “But that stress is gone.”

Prom is a milestone event for most young women, Savannah James said, and one that no girl should deny herself because she can’t afford to look the part. Three years ago, she asked area counselors to be on the lookout for seniors who needed a helping hand.

She recalled her own excitement preparing for prom in 2004, an event that was bittersweet because she had friends who “didn’t have the means to go, and it hurt my heart.”

“Prom is icing on the cake because shortly after that is graduation, and after that is real life,” James said. “So it’s about enjoying the last of your high school days because you never get that time back.”

James and her husband, LeBron, joined the students for lunch at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn. They came from Savannah’s alma mater of Buchtel, LeBron’s alma mater of St. Vincent-St. Mary, and other Akron high schools.

The girls received tips from Savannah’s personal stylist, Alicia Golden of New York, who shared a list of must-have staples for the closet and advice on selecting the right undergarments.

Then came words of encouragement from Savannah. Don’t strive for a perfect experience or a perfect appearance, she told her attentive audience.

Be confident, “let the beauty on the inside shine through,” and create a special memory, she said.

When the lunch plates were cleared, the girls were free to pore over racks full of colorful gowns and try them on in temporarily-assembled dressing rooms that lined four walls.

Attendees were then invited to select shoes from a table filled with everything from simple flat sandals to glittering 4-inch-heels.

James said she’s received letters of appreciation and photos of former recipients in their prom dresses, and it serves to reinforce that the I PROMise program is filling a very special need.

“Most of the ladies we’re helping today are ladies who probably wouldn’t have been able to go to prom without our financial help,” she said.

For others, prom would still have been an option, but it would have meant giving up something else.

“Paying for everything would have been a challenge,” said Brittany Mosley, 18, a Buchtel senior who estimated a dress alone could have cost her $600, leaving no money for any other prom-related activities.

On Tuesday, she found her dream dress in less than five minutes, a long and slender navy blue gown with gold sparkles.

Having that out of the way, “it’s a stress off my shoulders,” Brittany said, “and it gives me the opportunity to just enjoy the night.”

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.