The youth group that meets at Holy Spirit parish in Gloversville on Thursday nights is supposed to run from 6-7 p.m., but it's often past 8:00 when adult leaders finally shut it down - and then only because parents lose patience waiting in the parking lot.

The teens and leaders would stay all night. The environment is that inviting.

Years ago, teens from Holy Spirit transformed the parish's former school into a hangout spot with a game room, couches and a purple-painted café decorated with murals and artwork. The kids help themselves in the café's kitchen, which is stocked with snacks and drinks.

Members say they feel more comfortable and safe at the youth group meetings than at school or, in some cases, home. The group started last fall after a youth ministry alumnus, 20-year-old Liz Tagliatela, texted the youth minister for help with her panic attacks.

"She said, 'Hi, my name is Liz and I have anxiety,'" recalled Ann Simonson, the youth minister, who had helped Liz in the past. "I said, 'It sounds like an AA meeting.'"

In it together
The pair mused about starting an actual support group. Through speaking at youth retreats and sharing at the parish, Ms. Tagliatela had begun to discover she was not alone and that she could use her experiences to help teens.

"I was embarrassed by [my anxiety] forever," she told The Evangelist. "I talked about it to a few people in the church and they were like, 'I have it, too!'"

They took the first three letters of her last name and named the group TAG, later deciding it was an acronym for "Taking Anxiety to God." There are currently up to 10 teens involved; they meet for weekly, unstructured sessions that can involve games, venting about school and home life, prayer, reading motivational quotes or Bible passages, and relaxed conversation.

TAG is advertised in the joint bulletin for Holy Spirit and Holy Trinity parish in Johnstown and in the bulletin for St. Joseph's parish in Broadalbin and St. Francis of Assisi in Northville. The ads say the group gives "high-school and college-age young people a place to come and share their anxieties and help each other....We share feelings, tears, laughter and prayer."

At one recent meeting, there was a lengthy chat among the female members about makeup, a performance of the song "Cups" and a spirited exchange on positive things that had happened that week.

Negatives, positives
"Nobody thought I was weird when I sat on the floor in English class!" one teen gushed. Others shared, respectively, a good grade on an English presentation, beating the gym teacher in pull-ups, making it into All-State choir and getting Netflix back.

One member turned to the group for support with a problem. She had been home sick from school, and a teacher mistakenly pinned her symptoms on an eating disorder. Her peers were sympathetic to her anger.

The adult leaders don't give advice, but there is a rule: For every negative thing someone shares, he or she has to share two more positives.

"We don't counsel because none of us is qualified for that, but we're here and we listen," said Mike Shrader, one of four adult team members. "They know they're safe. The biggest thing we stress is there's no judgment and it's kept confidential."

That's not lost on the teens. Dani Seabolt, a 15-year-old Broadalbin-Perth High School student, refers to TAG as "home" and "family.

"It's the people," she said. "It's the love we have for each other that brings us here."

Mr. Shrader said God's love is "what we have for each other." He said he's gotten more from the teens than they get from the leaders.

Why it works
"I've learned you're never alone," he said; "that no matter what you're going through, you're not a freak, you're not different. I'm inspired that, at their age, they're not afraid to come out and say they believe in God."

Gregory Felter, a 17-year-old Mayfield High School student who recently became Catholic (read his story at www.evangelist.org), said he feels free to talk about his beliefs at TAG.

"In school, it's like a whole different universe," he said. "There's so much judgment and bullying. Some people just feel like they should pick on you. [Here], they all have the same beliefs as me.

"People at school," Gregory continued, "are not always there for you like these people are. I don't know how to explain it."

Sixteen-year-old Kenny Hastings of Gloversville High School gave it a shot: "We're on equal ground. If I have something to say, I can say it here and not be judged. I feel accepted."

Kenny doesn't like the way people act in school sometimes.

"I have trouble keeping my emotions and anger in check," he said. "The gang here doesn't really annoy me. It seems safer than being at school. I've been on both sides of [bullying]. Here, no one really bullies because we all know that, one way or another, we have similar backgrounds."

Gloversville classmate Angela Veeder, 16, struggles with a host of psychological diagnoses, plus grieving the loss of her mother when she was five. It took her a while to talk about that, but now, "they let me talk about my mom whenever," she said. "Ann [Simonson] said I'm trying to fill that hole in every relationship I have."

Still involved
She considers TAG a part of her treatment regimen: "I can talk to them about serious things. Praying actually helps, too, because it's repetitive."

When she had a falling out with her best friend, Angela cried to the group. Ms. Simonson texted her comforting quotes, and her peers suggested she write a letter to the ex-friend.

Ms. Tagliatela said her friends outside of the group and in the workplace are always trying to compete over whose lives are worst.

"Here, the smallest things can happen, and people will celebrate with you," she said. "Everyone makes your problem, their problem. People actually listen. They care."

About 55 junior and senior high students go to Sunday night sessions and periodic retreats at Holy Spirit, and there's a teen Mass four times a year with four nearby parishes. When Ms. Tagliatela first started attending the youth ministry programs, she was dealing with her brother's diagnosis of a kidney disease. When he was in the emergency room one night, someone she barely knew from the group showed up, and members then "blew up" her phone with a blizzard of contacts.

To this day, the adult volunteers and younger group members all keep tabs on her life.

"You can try to leave, but you really can't leave," Ms. Tagliatela said with a laugh. "Everyone's making sure you're OK. Everyone's still with you when you're not here."