Great to have you here @lbdetroit - experienced or not, everyone's here to learn and share experiences. I don't think I've ever seen one person here that hasn't had something valuable to say or ask. Ever.
I agree with @HAWK's definitions on Community, Forums and Panel (although I must admit to not really knowing what you mean by panels!).
For us in the FinancialForce community we see our community as being as Hawk describes, a group of people with common interests, shared experiences and we further that I guess to include the environment they're in - much like the community feel of your local neighbourhood.
Forums are a part of that toolset, or part of the makeup of the village/town/street whatever - a bit like the social hub where people gather to chat, the community centre, the town hall, the park, the pub whichever you want. We also have other parts such as our KnowledgeBase (a bit like the library), Help & Training (schools and colleges), Support Centre (I don't really have an accurate metaphor for this one!)... I could probably go on but I think it often helps when I'm explaining to people what Community is that they can imagine moving in to a new neighbourhood and becoming a part of the local community.
Keep us up to date on the journey and be sure to shout up with ANY questions you have.