PICO BLVD — A small slip of paper sits safely inside David Rolston’s wallet, containing a list of personal dreams he one day hopes to fulfill.

A seemingly permanent fixture on that list was the wish that a former social worker and alcoholic would find a way past her substance addiction, fight her way through the relapses and realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

After a six-year stay on the list — a duration in which the client with the CLARE Foundation went in and out of the rehabilitative organization, staying for a few weeks only to leave and fall back on alcohol and drugs each time — the woman has been taken off, remaining sober for about a year.

“For someone who couldn’t cobble together a week or 30 days — multiple times over a six-year period — that’s an amazing thing,” Rolston, 50, said. “When they try so many times, they believe that (recovery) is not meant for them and it almost puts them in a position of wanting to give up.”

It’s a success story that makes Rolston, who was the client’s counselor when she first came to the CLARE Foundation, smile, sticking with her even as he progressed his way up the organization as the administrative manager, assistant director of programs and now the director.

For the life-long Santa Monica resident, stories such as the wish list client reaffirms his decision to leave the lucrative real estate development industry a decade ago to join the nonprofit sector.

Today he oversees the organization’s 10 programs, which directly serve approximately 2,500 people a year.

“It’s a very special place,” Rolston said last week. “They’re incredibly successful at what they do, and what a better place to work for than a place that is venerable, an old brand name for substance abuse services for the Westside of Los Angeles.”

Founded in the 1960s, the CLARE Foundation, which is located on Pico Boulevard, provides residential, outpatient and community-based programs for individuals suffering from substance abuse. Aside from the 2,500 clients who receive direct services every year, many of whom are homeless, the organization also provides indirect service to another 26,000 people in the form of referrals every year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a survey on substance abuse in 2007, finding that more than 23 percent of participants over the age of 12 had been involved in binge drinking at least once in the previous 30 days, translating to about 57.8 million people if applying the rate to the country. The department has designated April as Alcohol Awareness Month.

The CLARE Foundation offers both a short-term and long-term residential program for its clients, along with intensive outpatient service, drug courses, and drinking and driving educational classes. The organization also provides recovery homes for women battling substance abuse who are also in jeopardy of losing custody of their children.

CLARE also provides educational courses for youth, including prevention and intervention programs in area middle and high schools, visiting about 20 every week.

Treatment for clients on average can take anywhere from 10 days to six months.

“Our hope is that we can take each individual who comes through our door broken, and help them mend themselves,” Rolston said. “It’s not just putting on a bandage but a process of healing on an ongoing basis and walking them through the process of completing the treatment protocol here.”

Following graduation from high school, Rolston worked several years with a nonprofit organization in Venice that dealt with families and individuals with substance abuse problems. He left after four years for a two-decade career in real estate development.

He sees some parallels between his careers as a developer and counselor, working with someone or something that wants to start out fresh and provide structure.

“They’re hoping for a place that can provide them with treatment for their disease and we can talk about the fact that alcoholism and substance abuse are chronic diseases,” he said.

While he is no longer a counselor, Rolston makes himself available for the clients.

The wish list client still occasionally knocks on Rolston’s door, allowing him to wear his counselor hat for the moment.

“One of the most important jobs for a counselor is to teach the process of holding hope and to teach clients that this is a series of steps they’re going to go through,” he said. “This is not a one day I’m using, the next day I’m clean.

“This is the beginning of a life-long process for each of our clients to struggle with their addiction and their own demons and issues.”

melodyh@smdp.com