Thank you all for your responses. I guess that I will look further into what is being bought/sold as that seems to be where the most help is needed. From the looks of this forum and the mining forum, the software/programing/mining side is in good hands (and I'm not a strong enough programmer to help).
I did have a question about how useful having an open port 8333 will be to the community as a whole.
Actually, it does help if you can open port 8333 on your router. Even machines which are not mining still pass transactions around. It improves the connectivity of the network. Some people are stuck behind firewalls and depend on others accepting inbound connections.
If you are any good at programming, there are plenty of projects under development. If nothing else, you could buy some Bitcoins and add to one of the bounties.
Since the method of peer discovery is supposed to be mostly random and the network needs to avoid single points of failure, one more "open" node adds little individual value (something like 1/(# open nodes) ). Is there any benefit to running an open node on a dedicated server (static ip, long uptimes, etc) as opposed to a normal home, dynamic connection? Will that dedicated node get 200+ connections and be a valuable nexus in the network? Is there a way to see how many transactions my node has helped pass along?