"Are you guys triplets, or what?" Billings asked. "I thought I was seeing things."
Her eyes weren't playing tricks. Three teen volunteers in the shop at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett's Colby campus are a matched set.
Identical triplets Michaela, Krystal and Rebecca Kishline, 17, finished their training to work in the shop last week. All proceeds from the hospital gift shop sales benefit charitable programs supported by the Providence General Children's Association.
Nancy Tilschner, an association member who organizes shop volunteers, said the Lake Stevens triplets have joined about 45 other helpers who keep the Twig Shop going with no paid staff.
The volunteers, who must be at least 16, help customers, stock items and handle transactions. Tilschner said the teens will be a great help, especially by working Sundays when the shop is busy with hospital visitors. "We have a real need for Sunday shifts," she said.
Along with supporting the hospital, Providence General Children's Association makes donations that support Camp Erin, which helps children coping with grief, and other programs that boost literacy and wellness for kids. The group awards annual scholarships. And earlier this year, the children's association board of directors voted to pledge $250,000 to the Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center. The Everett center serves child victims of sexual and physical abuse.
"It's really nice to be helping others," Krystal Kishline said.
In 2012, the Twig Gift Shop and the Pavilion Boutique at the Providence Pavilion for Women and Children, both run entirely by volunteers, netted $165,000 for the association's efforts.
The triplets plan to work their four-hour shifts together, which is how they have spent most of their lives.
All three are enrolled in the Running Start program at Everett Community College, where during spring quarter they were in the same three classes. Along with volunteering at the hospital, they will be back on EvCC's campus together this summer, taking chemistry and astronomy.
"We're always together. People pretty much know us as a three-pack," said Michaela Kishline, the eldest sister by two minutes.
They are accustomed to the second glances and questions that come with their striking similarity. Their mother, Kristen Kishline, who works in human resources at the Everett hospital, said her girls have drawn comments and curiosity since they were born Dec. 26, 1995, nearly three months before their due date.
Kristen and Mike Kishline didn't find out they were having triplets until six weeks before their girls were born. The triplets were conceived without fertility treatments, their mother said.
They were hospitalized their first two months of life at the University of Washington Medical Center where they were born. At birth, they weighed 2 pounds 4 ounces, 2 pounds 2 ounces, and just 2 pounds. Michaela was largest, Rebecca smallest.
Early on, Kristen Kishline said, a common response from people seeing her three identical babies was "I'm sorry."
"It was physically hard the first few years," she said. Today, she is delighted and proud. After earning associate's degrees next year, her daughters plan to attend a university together. They are interested in Gonzaga University in Spokane or the University of Great Falls in Montana.
Their togetherness extends to career goals. With hospital gift shop experience and college training in business, they want to have a clothing shop of their own someday. It wouldn't be their first entrepreneurial venture.
As kids, they ran a lemonade and candy stand in front of their house.
"It was Triplets' Treats," Michaela Kishline said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find information about the Providence General Children's Association at: http://washington.providence.org/donate/providence-general-childrens-association/
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